A December 2002 trip
to U.S. Virgin Islands by Harry Potter
Quote: The first week in December was the perfect time to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands: the weather was cold back home, but it was just before high season down south, so airfare and hotels were reasonably priced and it wasn't too crowded. We split our week between St. Thomas and St. John.
Renting a jeep so we could beach hop--each beach has something special to offer and we were glad to have the flexibility of the jeep to be able to drive and see several of them (St. John).
Simultaneously sunbathing, having drinks, and sitting on barstools in the water at the pool bar at the Marriott (St. Thomas).
Sharing private, romantic moments at night in the dimly lit Jacuzzi at the Morningstar Hotel (St. Thomas).
Having to hike a half hour down to the nude beach in a dress and high heels (St. John).
Snorkeling and wondering at the marvelous underwater creatures, including a school of squid, and then being shocked when a naked man swam by (St. John).
Meeting and drinking with friendly locals in Cruz Bay, St. John--a much safer and friendlier town than Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
Finding out I like flavored Cruzan rum (vanilla and banana are my favorites) and buying several large bottles at less than a bottle to bring home (St. Thomas).
Take advantage of no tax on purchases nor on restaurant bills.
Purchasing liquor is cheap in many places on the island, but the Kmart in Charlotte Amalie sells it at the lowest prices, and you can take five bottles home--but not 151 rum (as the airlines consider it too flammable, so you can neither carry it on, nor pack it in your luggage). Rather than just confiscate it, the airline agent was friendly enough to allow me the chance to trade it for something else at the welcome bar (St. Thomas).
Charlotte Amalie stores close promptly at 5pm when their main customers, the cruise-ship passengers, need to head back to their ships, and the town quickly degrades into a shady area (St. Thomas).
Sometimes the mosquitos get fierce; bring insect repellant!
We found "taxis" expensive and frustrating; these shuttle vans often wait until they're full before starting out, so it often takes a long time to get to your destination because you also may have to drop several other people off first. Rates are per person plus an additional charge per piece of luggage; one day we took a taxi to the beach and back to our hotel and then another taxi to dinner and back and it costs us ( per person each way) before tipping (St. Thomas).
We read that there are public transportation buses on St. Thomas, but we didn't see any.
We enjoyed the small boat that traverses back and forth from the Marriott to Charlotte Amalie--it's per person and leaves once an hour until 5pm (St. Thomas).
Ferries leave from both Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook on St. Thomas to take you to Cruz Bay, St. John. Red Hook ferries are more frequent and it's a shorter and cheaper ride.
You could easily spend your vacation just on these properties as there are pools, Jacuzzis, a beach, tennis courts, health club, restaurants, bars, food store, business services, and daily events. We stayed at Frenchman''s Reef and as soon as we walked through the lobby and viewed the ocean and pool, we were transcended into a relaxing state so easily obtained in the Caribbean. Unlike at Morning Star Resort (and other hotels), towels here were available without having to sign them out. There were abundant lounge chairs with small round tables between them for poolside food and drink service. I ordered the Bushwacker, a sweet frozen drink that included five different types of liquor. We relaxed in 85-degree temperatures and took occasional swims using available rafts in the warm, refreshing pool. We also swam up to the pool bar and sat on the stools in the water and enjoyed our drinks.
Later we walked down to the beach at the Morning Star Resort, a five-minute non-strenuous hike down several sets of stairs, along a well-marked path, and past the tennis courts. Inevitably, several large iguanas greeted us along one section of the path which was a little disconcerting at first, since they were not the least bit afraid of people; after passing them several times, I realized they were not going to bite, but were simply gathering for their own sunbathing enjoyment. Both hotels have 24-hour access to their pool areas which allowed for private romantic moments in the late evening. We also brought our own tennis equipment and simply turned on the lights on the tennis court when we were up for a night game.
Each room at Frenchman''s Reef boasts a balcony and our room actually opened onto a large shared roof that we climbed out on to get a view of the ocean. We were able to obtain our standard room at an Internet discount rate of $129 and were pleased with the ample space, cleanliness, and amenities such as a refrigerator, hair dryer and coffeemaker. The heavy curtains kept the room dark until we were ready to draw them and let the light of day fully wake us. Once a week, there is a manager''s reception; our stay fell on this day and we enjoyed one hour of free drinks, h''ors d''oeuvres, a chef presentation, and guest games.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 30, 2002
We rented a jeep from a desk in the reception area--it couldn''t have been easier. We told them how long we wanted to rent it, signed the papers, and walked to the hotel parking lot to get the car. The rate included fuel (no need to bring it back full) and no extra charges. When we were finished with it, we simply left the car in the hotel parking lot and gave the car keys to the front desk; it was after operating hours.
As we walked down the path to enter our room, we saw that all the rooms in our section were entered via their patios. We enjoyed spending evenings sitting outside and playing Scrabble on our patio. Our room was spacious and came with plenty of amenities such as minibar, coffeemaker, iron, and hair dryer. Probably the best item in the room, though, was the "heavenly bed" featured in the Westin''s TV ads. The thick boxspring, along with the plush white comforter and pillows, left us fully rested each morning.
The angular Westin pool has large palm trees encased in cement holdings in the middle that provide semi-private areas. We enjoyed a light meal at Snorkels (the outdoor pool bar and cafe) which has a plastic menu shaped like sunglasses. Then we walked the few yards out to the private Westin beach supplied with lounge chairs and umbrellas. The lounge chairs have flags on the backs that you raise to call for waitress service. Though there were some children around, it was the adults who were playing on the flotation devices anchored in the water: there were three round trampoline rafts with slides between them and two large inflatable hotdogs that could fit several people apiece--they were great adult water toys. It was also nice to be able to quench our thirst from the nearby cold water cooler.
We then walked down the beach to the shop that rented snorkel gear. For $12/day, we were provided with individual masks, snorkels, fins, and a netted bag to keep them in. Later, we had food and drinks at the other Westin outdoor cafe, the Beach Bar and Cafe, and watched the sunset. The only annoyance was the insects that came out in full force as the sun went down; that the only thing that bugged us (no pun intended) around the Westin.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 30, 2002
There is a separate lunch menu served from 11:30am to 3pm, and dinner is served from 5:30 to 10pm. The menus are similar, but the lunch menu incorporates more salads and sandwiches that range from $8.95 to $10.95. The dinner specials that night included three appetizers--beef satay on a Thai salad, sausage seafood, and mussels. The special entrees were red snapper, tuna, mahimahi, or swordfish prepared as requested. The regular menu had lots to choose from in the way of seafood and steaks ranging from $16.95 to $24.95. My companion jumped on the Peel 'n' Eat Shrimp special for $21.95 and got his money's worth of the little shrimp with a spicy kick. I decided to try a surf-and-turf entree and chose the crab-stuffed filet mignon that came with a choice of baked potato, wild rice, or bowtie pasta for $23.90. My filet was split in half with crab meat piled on one of the halves, so it seemed like a crabmeat sandwich using filet instead of bread. The filet was cooked perfectly and was extremely tender and tasty.
We were given warm soft rolls to start and half a carafe of water. An extensive separate drink menu classified drinks under Delicious Daquiris, Captivating Coladas, and Marvelous Margaritas. I chose a Strawberry Shortcake from the Fantastic Frozen Specialties and realized I was having dessert since it tasted just like a liquid strawberry shortcake. Other flavors included peach, banana, mango raspberry, kahlua, and pina colada.
The service was fast and friendly and the waitstaff were easily identifiable from their solid-colored polo shirts in pink, blue, or green, worn with long shorts. The restaurant was split into smoking and non-smoking, but because of the excellent ventilation from the outdoors and the ceiling fans, it was not at all smoky. Crisscross white boards with bright green borders made up the walls, and a few neon lights were fixed to the ceiling, providing a cool hue of lighting. Large potted plants along ledges had circles of lights around their bases. There was also a cozy secluded bar with about 10 bar chairs off to the back of the dining area.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 31, 2002
Tavern on the Beach, located in the Morningstar Hotel, is a five-star, open-air restaurant that overlooks the ocean. Since there is an open view, the soothing sound of the ocean waves rolling in accompanied our dinner. We sat for dinner as late as they would allow, and so at 9:30pm, the ocean was pitch black and the restaurant almost empty. The only downside to our late dining hour was that they had sold out of the specials, which included the chef's sushi roll and the scallop seviche. Service was fairly attentive though not terrific, considering we were among only a few diners, but in fairness, the staff was also trying to clean up and go home for the evening.
I started with a scrumptious warm spinach salad with lots of well-cleaned leafy spinach, onions, bacon, and goat cheese, and though the dressing was also very tasty, next time I would ask for it on the side as my salad was swimming in it. My companion ordered the papaya salad, which was interestingly mixed with string beans and other assorted greens and topped with a light but slightly spicy dressing. For dinner, we ordered the blackened mahimahi with raspberry sauce and the blackened tuna sashimi with orange salmon caviar. The mahimahi was placed over mashed potatoes and had a side of cooked carrots and zucchini, while the tuna was on a crispy wonton and came with a seaweed salad. Both dishes were exquisitely presented with dollops of sauces around the plates, and tasted as good as they looked.
Above the bar hangs a rowboat from chains, and the floors are tiled with large terra-cotta tiles. The wood chairs have a leaf design and blue-and-white-striped cushions. The walls are a muted peach color. Ceiling fans add to the breezy interior, and the white painted rafters have spotlights. The dining room sections are separated by walls about 3 feet high, and large potted plants along the walls lend more privacy. Two steps separate the dual-level dining areas, and a bench is placed between them, serving as a waiting area. Judging from the lovely dining room, I thought the bathroom would be similarly decorated, but it is quite sparse, though it does have flowers of pretty shades of teal, magenta, and purple painted on the tiled walls.
We liked our meal at Tavern on the Beach better than our meal at Herve, where we ate on another occasion. Both restaurants have an amazing ambience and similar food selections and prices, as well as similar service that varied from attentive to negligent. However, despite the numerous glowing reviews on Herve, we preferred Tavern on the Beach.
Windows on the Harbour serves dinner until 10pm and we arrived at 9:20pm without a reservation which we clearly didn't need. At that time, the spacious split-level dining rooms were almost empty and we were given a corner table against a stone wall. There is the impression of a classy decor with the white tablecloths and napkins along with the wood armchairs and their red cushions. The dark multi-colored rug was woven with nautical designs and brass lamps with big round balls hung from the ceiling. Stone columns sectioned off sets of tables. The waiters were professionally dressed in light blue button down short-sleeved shirts with black pants. Though we liked the location of our table, it was not underneath any direct lighting, so despite the lantern on our table, it was very difficult to read the menu in the darkness. However, most other tables seemed to offer more light. There is no smoking in the large dining rooms and no separate bar area to have drinks.
Despite the lack of people, the Caribbean service was still laid back and rather slow. We noticed it not only at our table but at the table next to us as well. While we waited to be served, we relaxed to the soft Caribbean music playing including songs by Bob Marley. There is a mediocre wine list by the bottle, and we ordered a Mondavi Merlot for $26 which was a pleasing wine, medium-bodied, not dry. Warm, tasty, sourdough bread and butter were placed on the table to start. For dinner, I chose potato crusted mahimahi which tasted fresh, but it was slightly dry from being overcooked. The potato crust provided a very light fried, soft covering on the fish. The piece was of average size and came with plenty of garlic mashed red potatoes and tasty cooked vegetables including carrots, yellow and green squash, and asparagus in light butter.
My companion, as well as everyone at the next table, ordered the specialty soup which was Frenchman Reef's callallo soup. It is brought out in a tin cup and then poured into the soup bowl. It had a good amount of seafood including scallops, calamari, lobster, and other types of fish and is prepared in a clear, not creamy, broth. It was rather tasty though not spicy. My companion also ordered the salmon BLT which arrived open faced and included three pieces of bacon. I thought the salmon tasted a little fishier than it should implying that it might not be extremely fresh. He also substituted the garlic mashed potatoes for crispy french fries for an extra charge. The view is the most redeeming quality here.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 10, 2003
Windows on the Harbour
Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star, 5 Estate Bakkeroe
Restaurant | "Skinny Legs"
Food is served in red plastic baskets lined with paper, accompanied by plastic utensils. They don't seem to use any washable utensils or dishware here, but instead opt for disposable. Green plastic bowls on each tabletop were full of packets of condiments, and the salt and pepper shakers were actually small Carib Lager bottles fitted with plastic caps with holes for pouring. The service was laid-back and casual, and it seemed that there was only the one waitress. We were surprised to see TV in this remote area of Coral Bay, but the two TVs with cable at the bar seemed to be part of the draw.
The simple menu included items such as burgers, chicken salad, mahi sandwich, grilled cheese, portabello sandwich, and turkey and Swiss, and ranged in price from $6.50 to $7.25. Salads included garden, Greek, and chef, from $5 to $7.50. For $7.50, I received a good-size chef salad, which had pieces of turkey breast, Swiss and American cheeses, cucumbers, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and shredded carrots, though it proved a little hard to eat with plastic utensils on a plastic plate, and the dressing came in a small plastic cup. My companion had a cheeseburger (you have your choice of cheese) for $7.25. The half-pound burger was good and juicy, had two pieces of cheddar cheese, and came on a tasty soft bun with potato chips on the side. Coffee and iced tea were $1.50 each.
Skinny Legs was relaxing and pretty quiet, except when people played old tunes on the jukebox. Surprisingly, the bathrooms out front, which are shared with the shops, were clean and well stocked with toilet paper and paper towels. We were pleased with our $20 meal and went shopping in the Mumbo Jumbo store after we finished eating.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 13, 2003
Skinny Legs Bar and Grill
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Attraction | "St. John North Beaches"
Our first stop was Caneel Bay. The gate to Caneel Bay Resort is not marked well, and at first we weren't sure that we had found it. Caneel Bay consists of seven beaches, but if you are not a guest at Caneel Bay, you must access six of those beaches by water. We walked down the path to the resort and stopped just long enough to take a couple photos of the public beach before we walked back to our jeep to continue beach-hopping.
Hawksnest Bay is a few minutes' drive from Caneel Bay Resort. It is lovely with its powder-soft white sand, blue shades of water, and dark-green palm trees. It is a narrow beach that curves inward and has shallow reefs.
Trunk Bay, named after the trunkback turtle, is first viewed from the top of the hill that descends down to it. Trunk Bay was the only beach where we had to pay admission, which was $4 each. It was the most crowded of all the beaches, and, not being very wide, it was hard to find a spot in the sun. Cruise-ship passengers and snorkelers are found here because Trunk Bay is renowned for its underwater trail for beginning snorkelers. Underwater placards provide direction and warnings along the trail, which is short and easy to follow. We spent a few hours here on the most photographed beach in St. John.
Cinnamon Bay, mistakenly named for what was actually the smell of bay rum, is the next beach along North Shore Road. We parked in an unattended lot and then walked about 100 yards on a dirt path to the beach. It was strange to see donkeys crossing in front of us. There is a small market before reaching this usually windy beach, popular with windsurfers, who are taught lessons right on the beach. Ocean canoes, inflatable rafts, kayaks, and sailboats can also be rented here. There is a sizable amount of beach space here, and rocky areas create sections.
Francis Bay can be found by following signs down a dirt road with considerable puddles. There is very little parking at the entrance to Francis Bay. It is a rather small stretch of beach with black rocks bordering one side, and you can walk around the crescent until the beach disappears because trees grow right to the ledge of the water, which was colder here. There were fewer than 20 people on this beach, not many more than the ducks in the water.
Leinster Bay is a rocky beach, but looking down the stretch of beach, the contrast of various shades of blue in the ocean with the mountains behind it creates an amazingly picturesque scene. After this beach, we went to eat at Skinny Legs (see journal entry).
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 13, 2003
St. John North Shore Beaches
Along North Shore Road (route 10)
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Attraction | "Nude Beach - Salomon Beach"
Let me preface this by saying, the strap on my beach sandals had broken the day before, so I was wearing my heeled sandals which I didn't think would be a problem since I planned to take them off once we got on the sand. Second, I was wearing a sundress over my bikini, and third, I was carrying a fairly heavy beach bag with towels, books, food, and such, planning for a simple day at the beach. Had I known what I was in for, I would have changed all of this.
Salomon Beach is not easily accessible, but knowing this, you can plan for it. Driving north from Cruz Bay, after about a quarter mile on the left, we saw a big blue sign saying Virgin Islands National Park, and pulled in here to park. At the top of the driveway, there is a sign that gives directions to Lind Point Trail, Cruz Bay, Honeymoon Beach, and Salomon Beach. Here is where our hike began. First, we climbed down a rocky, semi-steep path for about five minutes. If I had only known, I would have worn sneakers. We followed this trail down to a sign that pointed left to Honeymoon Beach, then walked straight along an easier path for about 10 minutes. Next we saw a sign that points to Cruz Bay (on the other side of the sign it points to Honeymoon Beach and Salomon Beach, but you wouldn't know this unless you were coming from that direction). We went straight here, then took a right down a somewhat steep path until we saw the sign for Honeymoon Beach and Salomon Beach. Here we went left toward Salomon Beach through a wooded path, down to the right. At this point, we finally began to catch glimpses of the beach below as well as hear the water. The path wound around until it finally led us on to the beach. After about a half hour, sweaty and tired, we had arrived on Salomon Beach.
The beach was not very long, but it was lovely with its soft, white sand and gradient shades of blue water. In the near distance, boats were anchored. There were some palm trees to provide a little seclusion which was appreciated since more than half of the dozen people on this beach were sunbathing naked. People were comfortably naked here and not shy when talking to us without wearing any clothes. Naked people walked the beach, sunbathed, and snorkeled as if they were fully dressed. If you can lose your modesty, come here for an off-the-beaten-path experience.
Cruz Bay, St. John 00830
+1 340 776 6201
The 18 signs are: 1) Slave quarters--one of the cabins where they lived; 2) The Village--beyond the wall are the ruins of the slaves' main village; 3) Bagasse--the crushed stock of sugar cane, stone columns from the shed that stored the bagasse are all that is left; 4) Imagine--the slopes above are covered with sugar cane; slaves cut the cane, stripped the leaves, bundled it, then loaded it on mule or cart to be hauled to Annaberg for processing; 5) Windmill--when a steady wind blew, cane was brought here to be crushed (see photo of this ruin below), also off to the side is a sign that shows the direction of the British Virgin Islands (photo also below); 6) Horse Mill--when there was not steady wind, cane was crushed on this; 7) Boiling Bench--the building where cane juice was turned into brown sugar (boiling process), timing was crucial to get good sugar crystals; 8) Dripping Cistern--nothing was wasted, liquid drippings were funneled into these cisterns; 9) Cistern--rain from the roof flowed into this cistern; 10) Oven--bread was baked in it; 11) Dungeon--questionable, but a chain and handcuffs were found in this chamber indicating it was used as a vault or dungeon of some kind; 12) Sugar Apples--small trees with plants which the slaves ate for food; 13) Building Materials--field stone, brick, coral, and mortar of sand, water, molasses, and lime were used in construction; 14) Storage Room--this is where they stored sugar and aged rum before shipping it to North American and European markets; 15) Rum Still--made of copper, fermented molasses was poured into it; 16) Lime Tree--leaves of this tree are used to prepare a tea or tonic, and many of these trees grow wild around ruins on the island; 17) Firing Tunnels--bagasse was fed to the fire here to heat the boiling bench; 18) Ox Pound--stone enclosure that held mules, horses, donkeys, and oxen, measured 50 x 100 feet.
This educational tour was a nice, short diversion, and at the end, we were given an informational pamphlet that included a map to take home as a souvenir.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 13, 2003
Off Route 20 (North Shore Road)
Annaberg, St. John 00831
+1 340 776 6201
New York, New York