7 PERFECT DAYS IN OUR FAVORITE WINTER ESCAPE...THE VIRGIN ISLANDS!!
“Do you happen to know a good realtor?”
The famous last words from my soon-to-be husband, Jeff, as we were leaving our wedding coordinator’s office. It was February 2011, and we had traveled to St. Thomas to plan our wedding. St. Thomas was the island we chose for our first vacation together, and since we wanted a small, intimate beach wedding in a location anyone could get to, it seemed the perfect choice for our big day. We had hustled to find the perfect location on the island and agreed that once the wedding was planned, we would have the remaining time to relax and unwind. –Imagine the look I provided when I quickly realized we would be spending the next few days of our “vacation” viewing properties on the island.
Anyone who knows the two of us, knows that we came by real estate bug honestly. We both grew up with it – my mother was a realtor for over 20 years, and any spare money Jeff’s family had went into purchasing real estate. We are passionate about it, and know that with proper guidance and research, and a clear understanding of the market, real estate can consistently yield better (and safer) ROI (return on investment) than the stock market or other avenues. So yes, we are always looking, but this time I thought we were there to plan a wedding! Little did I know this would foreshadow our coming years (and vacations) together, and quickly turn into probably our favorite investment to-date.
In the Virgin Islands, stress quickly melts away, and often times, the most stressful decision is whether to snorkel or lay on the beach. This time, the stress was real, and was caused by 1) knowing there was now no more vacation (I’m still not letting this go) and 2) wondering how we were going to pay for a wedding AND attempt to buy a piece of the island. I didn’t think it was possible, but Jeff had that look in his eye. When he gets that look, he gets the job done. :-) In the end, we invested in a condo that we could use intermittently for ourselves, and use to generate income as a vacation rental: www.vrbo.com/350399. Check out the view:
The condo is located in Point Pleasant Resort (http://www.pointpleasantresort.com/), on the east end of St. Thomas between newly opened Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Resort and Sugar Bay Resort. Even though parts of St. Thomas are fairly commercialized, when you arrive at Point Pleasant, you literally feel like you’re the only one on the island. It’s an inviting resort situated on a 15-acre hillside preserve, overlooking Water Bay, Coki Beach, St. John, and many of the other islands in the Caribbean. Point Pleasant is known for its spectacular views and laid-back lifestyle. The resort has beach access to four beaches: Sugar Beach, Pineapple Beach (at Jimmy Buffet’s next door), Coki Beach, and if you don’t want to leave the resort, our own private Point Pleasant Beach. The resort was built in the 1970’s, and is an architectural marvel that still seems updated, even by today’s standards. The entire property feels like a tropical oasis (a Costa Rican feel), as winding nature trails (lighted at night) lead you through the property. You’ll see amazing varieties of tropical plants, flowers, and palm trees, and you’ll encounter iguanas, tropical birds, and other wildlife. Shuttles are offered for transportation up and down the hill of the resort, and we always recommend renting a car, which you can use on-site and across the island. Our unit is located on the very top of the resort, which provides spectacular views, but you definitely need to have a plan for your return trip up the hill when you go to the beach or restaurant. It’s about a 7-8 minute walk, which is great exercise, and we highly recommend taking that walk at least once, as there are so many places on the resort to explore. If you’re more of a pool person than a beach person, there are 3 gorgeous pools are nestled in the hillside of the resort, as well as an activity center and fitness center. Also, just steps from our door is the new Point Wellness Spa, featuring AntiGravity yoga, aerial yoga and spa services. Point Pleasant also has a great NEW restaurant, Shoreline Bar & Grill, which sits directly on the water. When I say right on the water, you can literally step from the restaurant into Water Bay. At night, lights have been placed underwater to attract huge Tarpons for viewing. Quite a sight to see! Speaking of quite a site, check out this aerial view of Point Pleasant. Isn't that some of the clearest water you've ever seen?
Our condo is one of the few 2-bedroom/2-bath condos in Point Pleasant. The master features a king-size bed, en suite and private entrance; and the spare bedroom has two queen-size beds. Combined with a new sleeper sofa sectional, we can provide sleeping for 8. The two bathrooms are spacious and updated, and the recently remodeled kitchen provides all the essentials for cooking during your stay. Over 1500 sq ft provides a phenomenal social setting if you’re travelling with your friends and family, but those views always seem to pull us out to the balcony! It’s truly a sight you can’t believe until you see it, and the view just never gets old. You can literally see 7 different islands from our balcony, including St. John’s and the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s). Despite the views, the outdoor space is very cozy with plenty of seating, a table for outdoor dining, plants and evening lighting.
There are two ways to book a unit in Point Pleasant: through the owners directly (like us), or through the resort. As an owner, we are given the choice whether or not to participate in the resort plan. If we participate, the resort handles all of our reservations, and if we do not, we are responsible for finding and managing our own reservations. The resort plan is great, but the percentage that they retain from each guest’s payment is hefty, and we are already a management company, so with our already high occupancy, it isn’t worth the cost. By not participating in the resort plan, we are able to offer much lower rates to our guests. A guest can book our unit through us for sometimes half the cost of what the resort would charge. The only amenities guests won’t receive by booking through us (versus the resort) are the off-resort shuttle (which only goes to a few places – Magen’s Bay, etc), and the water activities (snorkel equipment, etc), but guests can still purchase an activity pass if they want to use any of the resort’s watersport equipment. By renting a car, and utilizing what we have provided in our unit (free snorkel gear, beach toys, etc), you can have the same amenities at a fraction of the cost. Guests end up paying less for our spacious, 2-bedroom unit than they do for a 1 BR unit half the size when booking through the resort plan. With that said, the folks that run the resort plan do a phenomenal job and have done a lot of great things for the resort. For most owners, the convenience of having someone manage all of your reservations is perfect, but for us, we own and manage rental properties for a living, so it makes more sense for us (and most importantly for our guests) to manage our own reservations. We like that we can provide a personalized experience, and we enjoy getting to know our guests.
With a growing business and busy lives, it’s often difficult to get away. However, Jeff does get some credit here, because since we own a condo on St. Thomas, we can always justify a “work” trip since there are always updates and improvements we like to make to the condo. As the owners/managers, it’s very important we have eyes on the unit as much as possible. It’s a win/win!
So, after the New Year, duty called! There’s no better place to either escape winter weather or decompress after the holidays. We enjoy travelling to the island really any time of year. Since the high season is late December-May. You can find great deals during what is considered hurricane season (Aug-Nov), and what few know is St. Thomas is not in the hurricane belt, so you rarely get more than a pop-up shower, or at worst, a tropical storm. It’s a great time to go if you don’t mind some occasional rain. After a busy holiday season, we opted for January, and since we were flying through Houston, we invited some dear friends from that area, and off we set to paradise!
Our friends, Donna and Craig, are wonderful and very understanding. They had not vacationed in years and knew this trip would be partially work for us. They were 100% on board. So much so, we had to keep telling them to stop helping us and go enjoy the island! Having them there was a treat, and they actually ensured plenty of playtime for us, because we’ve been known to work through peak beach time (major island faux pas). Here is a taste of our fantastic week in St. Thomas…
Jan 2 - after we landed and threw back our “Welcome to St. Thomas” Cruzan rum shots (shouldn’t all airports do this?), we grabbed our rental car and set off to Charlotte Amalie, driving on the left side of the road. Driving on the left is a custom stemming from the island’s Danish influence. It may take you a minute to adjust, but it’s actually a lot of fun! Side note… Jeff did not partake in shots and was our designated driver. We were glad someone could be responsible. :-)
Charlotte Amalie, which you’ll hear pronounced either “ah-mah-lee” or “a-mal-ya”, is essentially downtown St. Thomas and the capital of the USVI’s. You’ll find municipal buildings, tons of shopping, restaurants and more. It’s a great place to stroll for a few hours, but is also the main tourist trap due to the cruise ships that port there. Though we don’t usually spend a lot of time there, it’s worth a brief stop if you want to check out discounted jewelry (ask us for jeweler recommendations), duty-free liquor, or high-end shopping such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton at Yacht Haven Grande.
We were all starving, as we didn’t have time to eat on a short layover in Miami. We decided we would head to the resort for dinner, but on the way we took a detour and watched the sunset from one of the most spectacular vantage points on St. Thomas, the Valdemar A. Hill Scenic Overlook. It provides a stunning panoramic view of Charlotte Amalie and the harbor where the cruise ships enter port. I don’t know how many times we’ve watched the sunset from that same spot, but each time it takes our breath away…just spectacular.
After sunset, we headed to Point Pleasant Resort. It’s a 20-30 minute drive from the airport depending on traffic, which isn’t bad. Roads on the island are all 2-lane roads with lots of curves that don’t allow for fast driving, so always allow extra time. Upon arrival, we immediately cruised down the hill to the Shoreline Bar & Grill for dinner and drinks.
After a Mahi sandwich, out-of-this-world onion rings, conch fritters, and a Virgin Islands Summer Ale (brewed in St. John), we introduced our friends to the islands’ infamous drink, the Painkiller (a must try in the Virgin Islands). As Donna and Craig soon found out, the combination of rum, pineapple & orange juice, cream of coconut and fresh nutmeg WILL kill all pain. As we enjoyed our cocktails, we sat back and discussed the week’s adventures that lay ahead.
Jan 3 - We awoke to our first full day on the island, and took in the breathtaking views from the balcony. Since we arrived when it was almost dark the night before, we all had a nagging inkling to get to the beach! However, we had not yet been to the grocery, and we wanted to grab a quick bite and some groceries before heading out for the day. Anytime we travel, it takes Jeff a good 24 hours to decompress from our busy work lives. I, on the other hand, am immediately transformed to the person I feel I was meant to be. Relaxed, carefree, and ready to embrace and appreciate everything that comes my way. –This is a self-assessment, mind you, but I think most would agree. ;) So, as I yelled at Jeff to get off of his work email and hurry up (I tend to do that when I’m hungry, but the beach anxiety makes it even worse), we gathered our things and scurried to the car and made the 5 minute drive to Red Hook, which is a small little town centered around the Red Hook ferry station on the east side of St. Thomas. The town of Red Hook is very charming, and it consists of 15 or so restaurants, bars, shops, and a great nightlife. It has all the essentials (grocery store, surf shop, scuba shop, laundry mat, etc.), and has become one of the most popular spots on the island. The restaurants range from sports bars to fine dining, and even Texas BBQ (yep, a Texan made his way to St. Thomas and started a BBQ joint). In our opinions, Red Hook is MUCH more charming and authentic than Charlotte Amalie, and honestly one of the main reasons we decided to invest on the east side of the island. If you watched MTV’s “The Real World St. Thomas” (we didn’t), you will see familiar names like Senor Frogs and Duffy’s Love Shack. Most of the restaurants and bars, though, are local establishments and not chains, which is what we prefer. For this particular meal, we stopped at our old faithful, Fish Tails, a super casual restaurant located right on the water overlooking Red Hook Harbor. It’s a perfect place for a Caribe (local Caribbean beer) and a Mahi sandwich, fish and chips, or a burger. We went the Mahi route again and enjoyed every bite. After lunch, we decided to spend our first beach adventure on Lindquist Beach, which was one of the best-kept secrets on the island until recent development and improvements starting drawing more people there. It is still a quiet beach, and one that gets fewer tourists, so we really enjoy it. It is the first public beach you’ll see to the east of Point Pleasant, and it’s the long stretch of beach you see to the right when looking out from our balcony. They recently added new parking, restrooms, and pavilions. It’s very nice, but the downside is that they now charge $5/person to visit the beach. It is money well spent, but it used to be a dirt road with no sign, which was kind of fun, as we were often the only ones on the beach! We located a prime spot and the rest of the day just melted away. Time flies in the Virgin Islands, so plan to stay as long as you can! Here is a picture of Lindquist Beach from our beach spot. :-)
Our beach essentials:
Cooler with water and other beverages. :-)
One beach chair per person
One beach towel per person
Snorkeling equipment for those interested in snorkeling.
A beach bag with snacks, sunscreen, phones, wallet, etc
A Frisbee, ball, or something to toss around
A few pieces of bread to feed the fish
A water jug to rinse your feet before heading inside condo
This list is battle-tested, derived from years of experience visiting beaches in the Virgin Islands! We leave the beach chairs, snorkeling equipment, Frisbee, etc in the car for the entire time that we’re in the islands, and then we refresh our cooler and beach bags each night.
We were previously not overly impressed with the snorkeling on Lindquist Beach, but if you explore the left-hand side of the bay (as you’re standing on the beach looking at the water), you can snorkel around a really nice reef that drops off to form the channel. We saw lots of fish and coral. Mid-afternoon, a group of horses and riders trotted down the beach on a little excursion (the stables are nearby). Afterwards, a trainer brought an adorable miniature horse named ‘Dragon’ to the beach to run around in the water…he was adorable!
We stayed on Lindquist Beach until sunset, and then made our way home to shower before dinner. Be cautious of sand fleas, which are microscopic bugs that burrow in the sand during the day and come to the surface for an hour or so at night. They can get you if you’re not careful…they don’t hurt, but they itch. We’ve never encountered any, but we always watch the locals and leave when they leave. As we were preparing to leave, an afternoon storm came rolling in from the direction of St. John, which left us with a postcard of a double rainbow. :)
For dinner, we visited one of our favorite fine-dining restaurants, The Old Stone Farmhouse, which is located on the north side of the island beside the well-known Mahogany Run golf course (Tiger Woods and many celebrities have played there). The farmhouse was built in the mid 1700’s, and is a solidly constructed building with 3-foot thick rock walls.
The bar is super cool, and like many places on St. Thomas, the entire restaurant is open air. Weather note: the high temp’s on St. Thomas are 80-85 degrees, and the lows are 75-80 degrees. This restaurant is one of the more expensive restaurants on St. Thomas, but well worth the price. We started the meal with a delicious charcuterie plate, which had a nice variety of rare cheeses, olives, prosciutto and more. We also shared salads and brussel sprouts, which were wonderful. Old Stone is known for exotic meats, so for the main course, Jeff couldn’t resist trying the camel filet. That’s right, camel! It was prepared medium rare on a bed of mashed potatoes, and was apparently less tender than filet mignon. Jeff enjoyed the flavor, but Craig, who was the only other brave soul willing to try it, said it was a bit too “gamey” for his liking. All the other entrees were fantastic, and what meal is complete without Crème Brulee? Check this place out:
Jan 4 - Our second full day in the islands happened to be Monday, and Mondays are always our busiest workday for our business, especially after the holidays. Since we knew we would be working anyway, we decided we would complete our to-do’s around the condo. As a homeowner, it’s important to dedicate some time during each visit to improve our investment. Donna and Craig refused to go to the beach without us, so next thing I knew, we were all running errands, buying furniture and shopping together at Kmart (St. Thomas has 2 big box stores - Kmart and Home Depot, which is very convenient when you need something). By 10am, Jeff had purchased a new sectional couch and sleeper sofa for the living room, as well as a new stainless steel oven/stove, and we had someone coming by to buy our old sofa. We were moving and shaking! After purchasing new bath towels, linens, plants, and an array of other supplies, we returned to the condo and started re-organizing everything. Donna was an organizational machine! We had purchased bins and organizers for everything, so when it was complete, it was the most organized it had ever been. Jeff and Craig spruced up the balcony with new plants and lighting, and Jeff acid-washed the floors to get any engrained dirt/sand out of the tile (not a fun job, but it makes a huge difference). We have a caretaker on the island who maintains the condo, greets guests, and assists them while they’re on the island, but there is no substitute for pride in ownership. Each time we visit, we find a little bit of elbow grease goes a long way. We want our condo to be the best it can be for each and every guest.
After a long day of work, we decided to walk down to the Shoreline Bar & Grill for a quick, casual dinner. We started with the conch fritters again, and we each tried a different type of sandwich. The food is simple but great, and room service is now available!
Jan 5 - After a long day of work on Monday, we decided to make up for it Tuesday with a fun-filled catamaran trip to the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s). While it’s not necessary to bring passports to the U.S. Virgin Islands, we do recommend bringing them, and the BVI’s are a great example of why. Even though the BVI’s are located just a few miles from the USVI’s, it’s necessary to have your passport to travel between the two territories. You can easily keep yourself busy for weeks on the USVI’s, but the BVI’s offer a unique culture and set of things to see and do. There are many chartered tours - you can choose to sail or fly to the BVI’s, but before booking any of them, be sure to understand which islands they visit, and what you receive as part of the tour. In the past we have sailed on the Daydreamer to Jost (pronounced “Yost”) Van Dyke, but since we were hosting friends, we wanted to see as many islands as possible in one day, so we made a repeat sail on the Bad Kitty, a 49’ foot wave cutter than travels at high rates of speed. The cost of the Bad Kitty BVI tour is $155/person, plus a $45 per person customs charge when entering the BVI’s. So, you’re looking at $400 (total) for a couple, but it’s worth every penny! The trip started with about an hour boat ride to Virgin Gorda, one of the eastern-most islands in the BVI’s. Along the way, they served us a light breakfast (fresh fruit, bread, drinks), and we sat outside on the deck, which allowed us to see many of the Virgin Islands. Bad Kitty has a completely indoor cabin in case the weather turns bad at any point during the trip.
We arrived at Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda, and Bad Kitty docked to clear customs, which in the BVI’s is nothing more than handing your passport to the captain, paying $45, and grabbing a drink in the port while you’re waiting. After clearing customs (which only took 15 minutes), we re-boarded Bad Kitty and sailed a few minutes to the Baths, which are famous granite rock formations erected from the ocean by volcanic activity over the course of millions of years. They are actually still rising today at the rate of 1 mm per year. There are only 2 locations in the world that feature these granite formations rising out of the ocean. The formations create caves and pools of water within the hidden caves. They are called the Baths, because under the sand inside the caves, there are dense mineral deposits, which are said to have incredible healing powers. In fact, the wives of early explorers would bathe there and believed they had discovered the fountain of youth. We stayed a little longer after hearing that tidbit. ;) Our crew led us through a guided tour of the caves and granite formations, and each cave seemed more spectacular than the one before. It’s difficult to understand how the rocks are still standing (and growing) with the crazy angles of each formation. For this portion of the trip, it’s important to note that you must swim in from the boat, and climbing through the rock formations requires some physical activity aside from just walking. It’s not overly difficult, but we wouldn’t recommend it if you have an injury of any kind. At the completion of the tour through the Baths (it takes an hour or so), we ended at a beautiful beach at Devil’s Bay, tucked between the granite formations, and we swam back out to Bad Kitty. If you’re feeling adventurous, try jumping from the tall rock on your right as your walk into the water.
We swam back to the Bad Kitty and said goodbye to the spectacular Baths at Virgin Gorda. Of course, each island looks like a postcard…beautiful scenery with the clearest water you can imagine. Cruising along the open water and feeling great after our first swim of the day, we headed to Cooper Island, which is a small private island that only has one resort with 14 villas. Our ship crew called in our lunch order to the Cooper Island Beach Club, so when we arrived our meal was waiting on us. The food was decent, but the atmosphere was fantastic. After a fish sandwich (you’re probably sensing a trend here), a salad, and a communal order of fries, we took a quick stroll on the beach and headed back to Bad Kitty for some snorkeling. After a 20 minute boat ride, we anchored on a quiet bay off of Peter Island. During the winter months, the trade winds can cause the water to be very choppy, and can prevent snorkeling in certain areas. We were lucky to have a perfect day with almost no wind, so they informed us we were receiving a rare treat to be able to snorkel there. We brought our own snorkel gear, but most people use the gear Bad Kitty provides. Snorkel tip: use anti-fog solution on your mask before going in…your experience will be much more enjoyable! We just use a little baby shampoo in water and it does the trick every time. The Bad Kitty crew also provides the anti-fog solution, if you forget it. With a quick jump from the boat, we immersed ourselves in an underwater exploration that captivated us for the next hour. In our opinions, the snorkeling here at Peter Island didn’t measure up to Trunk Bay at St. John, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Anytime you can gaze at tropical fish swimming around a colorful reef, it’s a pretty good day. Next, we set sail for one of our favorite places in the world:
This day was already moving along entirely too quickly, but after our snorkeling, we set sail for what we consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world… Jost Van Dyke. We sailed into White Bay Beach and were greeted by picturesque white sand beaches, and water so turquoise, it looked like an aquarium. This is also known as one of the best party spots, and you may have even read about their popular New Year’s celebration, where a staggering number of million dollar yachts anchor in the bay to ring in the New Year. To give you an idea of how clear the water is, this island is near the small island used to film Corona commercials. There's something very special about this part of paradise, which I really can't describe. When I can’t fall asleep at night, or if I need to relax my mind, I’ve always visualized an island with a hammock and 2 palm trees, and White Bay on Jost Van Dyke (British Virgin Islands) is the closest thing I’ve seen to that vision in my mind. The beach is about ½ mile long, with the whitest of white sands, and coconut palm trees dotting the coastline. With Marley and Buffet playing in the background, we followed our ears to what has to be one of the coolest bars in the world… The Soggy Dollar Bar! The Soggy Dollar is a hole-in-the-wall bar tucked into the coconut palms on the beach of White Bay. The famous bar gets its namesake from the fact that the beach is accessible only by boat, and guests have to swim in to shore to access the bar, consequently ending up with soggy dollars! Jeff and Craig paid for our drinks with their soggy dollars (if you’ve never been there, it’s a rite of passage for you to pay for your first Painkiller with soggy dollars), and the bartender promptly hung them on a line to dry them above the cash register. Side note- also try Foxy’s Bar next door, home of the original Bushwhacker drink – YUM! We’ve been to Jost Van Dyke at least 3 times, and it just never gets old. We settled into beach chairs next to the Soggy Dollar, watched lots of happy people, and thought about what a spectacular trip it had been so far.
After about an hour and a half, it was sadly time to leave Jost, but the Bad Kitty crew had already reopened the bar (drinks are included as part of the trip), which quickly healed our woes. We sailed back through the ‘Narrows’, which is the closest point between St. John and Tortola (the USVI’s and BVI’s). After a 30-minute ride, we sailed into the harbor at St. John and cleared customs back into U.S. territory, before sailing back to St. Thomas. If you are ever standing in line waiting to clear customs at St. John, check out the huge tarpons swimming around next to the customs dock. There is a fisherman who throws his chum into the water, and they swim in like clockwork every evening. After a LONG day of fun in the sun and island hopping through 5 islands, we found ourselves exhausted and back at the condo. Not having the energy to go out, we ordered pizza and wings from Island Time Pizza in Red Hook. You can’t go wrong with any of their specialty pizzas, and they also have great salads. What a great day!
Jan 6 - If you didn’t bring your passport (or even if you did), a trip to St. John is a MUST! I can’t speak for the others, but St. John has always been one of my favorite islands. Though the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, it’s unspoiled beauty is perhaps the greatest found anywhere in the Caribbean. Its beaches are unmatched, and snorkeling provides glimpses of parrot fish, sea turtles, stingrays and more. With 60% of its land area comprising a pristine national park, St. John is as far away as you can get from civilization, while still being just a short distance from upscale jewelry stores, boutiques, and great restaurants. No wonder Kenny Chesney lives there! ;) There’s so much to see and do, and the best way is by car. We always drive our car onto one of the car ferries at Red Hook, so we can explore the whole island while we’re there. The vehicle ferries run every 30 minutes, or you can take a pedestrian ferry and cab it on St. John. It’s still less expensive and more flexible to have your own car. A one-way ticket for the car ferry is $30 (plus the $3 port fee), and a round trip is $50. If you aren’t sure of your schedule, you may want to purchase a one-way ticket only, as you have to return on the same ferry or the round trip fare won’t be valid. The last returning ferry typically leaves St. John at 7:00 PM, so be sure to get an early start in the day to maximize St. John beach time!
There are two main resorts on St. John (the Westin and Caneel Bay). Both are VERY nice, but VERY expensive (like $1,000/night during the high season), so one of the benefits of staying on St. Thomas, especially with the location of our condo, is that after a 5 minute drive and a 25 minute ferry ride, you’re on St. John. It’s really no different time-wise than driving to the other side of St. Thomas. We packed up our car with the same beach items mentioned previously, but we packed extra snacks so we didn’t cut into our beach time by stopping for lunch. The St. John ferry arrives at Cruz Bay, which is the only actual town on St. John. Real estate is VERY expensive on St. John, as property is rare due to the national park, and also it’s very expensive to build there, as everything has to be brought over on the ferry from St. Thomas. A very small 2 bedroom home will cost more than $500,000, and most likely won’t have a view. The majority of homes on St. John are valued at more than $1 million. Cruz Bay has some great restaurants, and like any of the Virgin Islands, lots of bars! You could easily spend an entire day in Cruz Bay, but after a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some ice for our cooler, we headed toward Hwy 20 East, which winds through the national park along the coast and has the most spectacular beaches (and we mean spectacular!).
On the way up the hill leaving Cruz Bay (see picture above), be sure to stop and take a picture overlooking the town and bay, and also check out the great views of St. Thomas. This is one of the best places to watch the sunset as well. Take it in, because these views are unlike any you’ll see in the States. Our first beach stop was about 4 miles along Hwy 20 at Hawksnest Beach. Again, if you don’t have a vehicle, you can also take taxis (or a tour) to the beaches, but this will cost you quite a bit of money if you plan to do any beach hopping. For the entire day on St. John, we paid a total of $80 ($50 for the ferry, $5 each for admission into Trunk Bay, and $10 at the grocery store) for our 4-person group. I can promise you’ll never have a more incredible experience for $80! Hawksnest Beach is a spectacular, white sand beach nestled in a bay almost completely shielded from waves. We snorkeled, saw plenty of fish along the coral reef, and just laid on the beach for awhile. The time was flying and we knew we wanted plenty of time for snorkeling at Trunk Bay, so we drove a few miles down the road and claimed our spot on Trunk. As you can see from this picture, Trunk Bay isn't a bad looking beach. :-)
Trunk Bay charges $5/person, but the fee goes to the National Park and is well worth the money for all you get to see and do. There is a small island off of the beach, and surrounding it is where you’ll find an underwater paradise. It’s an actual underwater park with signage explaining the different types of coral and fish. Too cool! The varieties of fish were staggering as we saw them darting in and out of the coral reef. We had a beautiful rainbow colored parrotfish that wouldn’t leave us alone…due in part to residual bread Jeff had in his pocket from feeding the fish earlier in the day. It seemed like we only snorkeled for a few minutes but it ended up being more than 2 hours in the water, as we were so entranced by what we were seeing. Donna and Craig even saw squid and a Manta Ray! After snorkeling so long that our hands looked like prunes, we sat on the beach, played Frisbee, and dried off. We didn’t want to leave, but knew that it was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted to see more beaches, so we hit the road. Along Hwy 20, there are lookout points along the way with panoramic views of most of the beaches, and we stopped at each one to take pictures. Next, we drove a few miles to Cinnamon Bay, which is always a favorite. The beach is appropriately named based on the color of the sand, which looks like it is speckled with cinnamon. This is also one of the larger beaches on the south side of St. John. We stayed for an hour or so at Cinnamon Bay, and then continued on to Maho Beach. Maho Beach is one of the more narrow beaches, but it’s easily accessible if you don’t want to walk far. You can literally park next to the road and step on to the beach. Maho Beach is also a great place to see stingrays and sea turtles in the evening hours. We weren’t lucky enough to see any this time, but the last time we visited we saw 6-10 stingrays in the shallow water. We decided to make this our last stop for the day, so we Donna and I strolled the beach, while the guys played Frisbee in the water. Before we knew it, the sun was setting and it was time to head back to the ferry.
In an entire afternoon, we didn’t even make it a quarter of the way around the island. We LOVE traveling around the whole island, but we simply ran out of time, and this was enough of a taste for our friends to know they want to come back and explore more of St. John. If you keep driving along Hwy 20, you’ll hit an array of beaches and hiking trails. Eventually you will find a trail for the old windmill, which is a bit of a hike, but it’s quite a sight. From there, you can drive all over the island and see amazing scenery, but if you’re only going to spend one day there, we highly recommend the string of beaches we mentioned. Generally speaking, the further you travel along Hwy 20, the less people you will see on the beaches. We never felt crowded at all, because the beaches are large, but there will always be plenty of people, especially at Trunk Bay, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. If you would like some ideas for more isolated, quiet beaches, shoot us a note and we’ll send you some suggestions. We were cutting it fairly close for the ferry back to St. Thomas, so we drove back to Cruz Bay and made our way to the ferry station. If you have time, leave the beaches and bit earlier and have dinner in Cruz Bay…you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants there. Again, feel free to email us (email@example.com) if you would like any suggestions.
Our ferry docked back at St. Thomas around 7:30 PM, and we decided to eat on our way home so we wouldn’t have to go back out. Our destination for the evening… Duffy’s Love Shack, dubbed the best parking lot bar in the world! Duffy owned a restaurant in Charlotte Amalie (downtown St. Thomas), but in 1995, Hurricane Marilyn demolished his restaurant, so he decided to reopen in the main parking lot in Red Hook. Duffy’s really does look like a shack, but they have great food and drinks, and it is quite the hot spot for nightlife.
We highly recommend ordering their Caribbean Pu Pu Platter plate as an appetizer - chicken skewers, conch fritters, plantains, coconut shrimp, Gyoza dumplings and rum-soaked pineapple. It’s perfect for 4 people, as you can sample each item. They serve the pineapple over a flame so you can fire-roast it at your table. After eating seafood for the past 4 days, we all settled on burgers and chicken sandwiches. All were wonderful! The boys ordered the Maui Burger, topped with teriyaki, Swiss cheese, and pineapple, and Donna ordered the Sunset Burger, which was topped with cheddar, BBQ sauce, and caramelized onions. I had a teriyaki chicken sandwich, which was also good. If you want a tropical drink (and a souvenir cup), try the Hula Boola or Bushwhacker. After an hour or so, the placed was filled with people dancing. We soon learned that Wednesday is Ladies Night, which means free well drinks for the ladies! Duffy’s Love Stack is known as a great party spot, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out it is also a great restaurant. Another great day in the books!
Jan 7- Thursday began with more condo work. We added some new décor, ran a few errands, and had a meeting or two. In the afternoon we drove over to Charlotte Amalie, so we decided to stop by Frenchtown (known for its French colony) and have lunch at the Hook, Line & Sinker Café. The views of the harbor are awesome, and they offer a unique variety of food, from seafood to comfort foods. Try the potato asparagus soup or the grouper sandwich with butter sauce. With its close proximity to the airport, this is a great place to stop for a good meal on the way to catch your flight. You can also grab a quick photo of the large Iguanas sunbathing on the rocks next to the restaurant. The airport options are not ideal, so be sure to grab lunch somewhere before you return to the airport! Here is a photo of Jeff's new friend:
After lunch, we drove back to the north side of the island to visit one of our favorite beaches, Magen’s Bay. Magen’s is a one-mile stretch of white sand beach, consistently rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. It holds a special place in our hearts, as Jeff and I were married there 4.5 years ago between two coconut palms. This beach is more for relaxing than snorkeling, as there isn’t much coral in the bay. The island park association will charge you $5/person to enter the beach, but it’s a must see on St. Thomas. There is a snack bar on the beach, but we suggest eating beforehand or bringing snacks. One note for bringing drinks to any of the beaches, glass bottles are not allowed, so bring cans or plastic. We spent the afternoon at Magen’s, then we drove west into the mountains to check out the spectacular views looking down upon Magen’s Bay. There are several lookout points along the route, but if you want a truly spectacular view, visit The St. Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens (which happens to be the location of our wedding reception). It was lovely to see it again, and to show our friends where we had our special day. After checking out the view, we headed back to the condo and had drinks and snacks on the patio. There was a wonderful local band called The Island Boys playing at Sugar Bay below, and we listened to them for hours while sipping our drinks and dreading the next day, when our trip would sadly come to an end. Here is the spot on Magen's Bay Beach where we tied the knot:
Jan 8 – Though there was not enough time for the beach on our last day, somehow we made time for viewing a few condos in our resort. Are you sensing a theme here?! Though it was vacation, we are still a real estate company, and our friends, Donna and Craig, were interested in seeing what was available for sale in Point Pleasant. Point Pleasant has 125 units, and of those 125, only seven are 2-bedroom units (we were lucky enough to snag a 2 BR unit when we purchased ours). There are several variations of the 1 BR condo, and they are all extremely popular. Only 3 units were on the market, as Point Pleasant properties sell relatively quickly. –Not as quickly as our market in San Antonio (things sell in a day, or sometimes an hour), but usually in just a couple month’s time. Condos sell especially fast in Point Pleasant, because Point Pleasant is one of the most affordable places in the Virgin Islands to purchase a condo of that caliber. The condos all have incredible, breathtaking views, and you can walk right down to the water. The resort has access to 4 beaches, and tons of great amenities like the restaurant and spa we mentioned previously. You can purchase a 1-bedroom condo in the $175-215K range, and a 2 bedroom (which are rarely available) are being listed at $300K. The resort is in the process of obtaining its 4-star rating, so when that happens, the property values will continue to rise. There are many resorts on the island that have far inferior condos (with less of a view and no beach access) selling in the $400-$500K range. It’s honestly hard to find something in this price range on the Gulf coast, much less the Virgin Islands. The resort is continuing to become nicer each year, and real estate values on the island (and resort) continue to rise. Although, we aren’t licensed to buy and sell real estate is the Virgin Islands, we manage property there and have relationships with several great realtors. If you have any specific real estate questions for the VI’s, send us a message and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction.
After leaving our condo and stopping one last time to enjoy the spectacular view, we sadly headed toward the airport, but not without one last stop at Duffy’s Love Shack for lunch in Red Hook! We smiled as we re-lived the past 6 days, and our journey to 7 different islands.
When leaving St. Thomas be sure to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours early, as they operate on “island” time. Customs and security lines can be very long, particularly during the high season, and the airport has a bad habit of giving your seat away after that 2-hour window. So, if your spouse needs to get back to work in the States, but you want to stay an extra day, get there like 90 min before your flight and you may get to stay another day (been there, done that, will probably do again)! J Be sure to also allow extra time to return your rental car. We made a quick stop to snap one last selfie before leaving the islands:
Sadly, another great journey came to an end, but it left us all wanting to return SOON! As you prepare for your own personal journey, we would love to hear from you! Here are some recommendations for things to pack for your trip:
Passports (not necessary to enter St. Thomas from the U.S., but great for visiting other islands and territories)
Snorkel gear (also available at the resort)
An underwater camera (GoPro, etc)
Cellphone: AT&T and Sprint receive normal service on the island, but if you have Verizon, it may be worth the cost of purchasing an AT&T prepaid phone for use while you’re in the islands, unless of course you don’t want to be reached (like me). We do also provide a complimentary cell phone for our guests to use during their stay.
A beach bag or backpack
Shorts and flip flops (the standard dress code for almost all places on the island
At our condo, we provide things like beach chairs, cooler, snorkel equipment, and beach toys (Frisbees, etc), but this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere, so be sure to check with the place you’re staying ahead of time to see what they provide.
Also, 3 important pieces of travel advice we recommend when travelling to St. Thomas:
Passports: While it isn’t necessary for U.S. citizens to have a passport when travelling to the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, or St. Croix,) we suggest taking it so you can travel to the neighboring islands, like the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s). The islands are so close together that it’s really a missed opportunity if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity to see so many diverse places in such a short time.
Rent a car! Yes, everyone drives on the left side of the road here, but come on, live a little! It’s a great experience, and it saves you a TON of money! Taxis are not cheap and hotel shuttles only travel to certain places. At $25/day, you can rent a car, which will cost you less than taking a taxi one time each day. If you have multiple people in your group, and you split the cost of the rental car and you will have the freedom to explore anywhere you desire in the islands!
Charlotte Amalie (the capital of the US Virgin Islands) is a very nice town, but it’s very commercialized. We always say that it’s for the cruise ships. If you want to go there for world class shopping or food, it’s a great day trip, but we highly recommend staying on the north, east or south sides of the island. We prefer the east side because of the views, beautiful beaches, laid back atmosphere, and proximity to St. John (among other reasons), but many people only visit Charlotte Amalie on a cruise stop and think that’s what St. Thomas has to offer. It’s really the least impressive part of the island.
Although our 2011 wedding planning vacation may have been cut short, I gladly ate crow. ;) We now can go to St. Thomas anytime we want, and we are proud to say we own a little piece of paradise! Thank you for taking the time to read about our journey. We hope it inspires you to plan a trip to the Virgin Islands, as we promise it will be a trip you never forget! For assistance in planning your trip, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or book directly at www.vrbo.com/350399. Mention this blog and receive 10% off your next stay! We look forward to hosting you in paradise!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kristen Wells is the co-owner of Wells Property Group, a real estate and property management company based in San Antonio, Texas. She is an avid Equestrian, and enjoys travel, sports, food, and music. In her spare time, she enjoys learning new things and is currently exploring the arts of photography and wine tasting (separately, though she is proving the two combined may produce better results).