The Virgin Islands

My most recent trip was this past summer (2004) when I visited the Virgin Islands. Mike
and I chose the islands as our vacation destination mostly because I wanted to go somewhere
in the Caribbean and he'd been there before and talked me into it (it wasn't too hard). I 
was excited because it was the first time I would get to use my new passport! You don't need
a passport to get to the U.S. Virgin Islands but if you want to go to the British Virgin 
Islands you will need  something to prove American citizenship like a driver's license and a
birth certificate. All this can be too much to carry on vacation so I would recommend just 
the passport. Also, having a passport also makes getting through the airport faster.

The majority of our vacation time was spent on the tiny island of St. John. The island is
the smallest of the three islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two-thirds of the
island is property of the National Park Service and therefore, mostly undeveloped. The
main town on St. John is Cruz Bay. It's a very tiny, laid back island so you won't find too
much activity there. However, there are lots of shops and resturants to suit all tastes and
some small-scale nightlife in the form of some lively bars.


Dining

My favorite place for nightlife was a little bar called Woody's(right). During the day Woody's is a tiny resturant serving a little bit of everything. We ate there for lunch one day and it was good; but I really liked Woody's at night. The people there were a mix of island natives, tourists like us, and ex-patriots who always had an intriguing story of how they came to live on the island. It was just a very cool place to hang out. Happy hour specials were great (the drinking age is the islands is you have to be taller than the bar) and the staff was really fun. As a bonus, our trip was in May and in the middle of the Tampa Bay Lightning's (my team) run to the Stanley Cup; when I found a bar where hockey was on the TV I was a happy camper. There are several places more upscale than Woody's. One is Morgan's Mango. We made reservations there twice but never actually ate there. The story goes that they actually turned away Harrison Ford because he didn't have a reservation. We did eat at the Lime Inn (left) and it was fantastic. They had fresh Caribbean lobster and it was excellent! The inn itself was a lot of fun; and with the steel-drum band and lively crowd at the bar it was actually fun waiting for a table.

Lodging

Mike and I decided to take the economic approach and decided to stay at Maho Bay. Maho Bay has four different campsites around the island. We stayed at Maho Bay Camps. Here we stayed in canvas tents on a boardwalk up in the trees. There are also nicer campsites on the other side of the island; or you can set up your own tent right on Cinnamon Beach (this is not recommended due to the bugs and wild donkeys). A worker at Maho perfectly described where we stayed as either the nicest campground you've ever been to, or the worst hotel. I only have two complaints: one, the bugs were horrible (in their defense I'm always the tender white meat that gets eaten first); and two, because it was communal bathrooms, from our tent it was 83 stairs anytime you wanted to go to the bathroom. However that was all secondary because everything that surrounded you was absolutly beautiful. The picture at right is the view from our tent. Every morning when I raised my head from my pillow that is what I saw; and every night I fell asleep to the sound of waves hitting the shoreline. It was truely paradise.

Fun Stuff

Maho Bay is an "eco-friendly" campsite, which means the camp is trying to not hurt the environment by being there, and even improving it. Everything is from water conservation efforts to the biodegradable dish soap they give you to wash dishes is an effort to preserve the pristine beauty of the island. Another part being eco-friendly is recycling. One way they do that is by taking glass bottles recycled by guests and crush them up for use in their glass-blowing workshop. They bring in different artists and in exchange for lodging and teaching classes the artists practice their craft and exchange ideas with other artists. Their work is sold in the store with proceeds going back to the camp. At night they have open work hours where visitors can sit and watch them and ask questions. Guests can also pay to take a glass-blowing class like I did (left) and you can take a little piece of Maho artwork home with you. I had never thought of blowing glass, much less having the opportunity to learn! STRANGE CREATURE WARNING: There are some strange creatures running around the islands. In addition to the tropical birds and fish you expect to see, there are probably a few new animals that come as a surprise. One is a mongoose (the brown thing in the middle of the picture). They were brought to the islands in the 1800s to control the snake and rat population, now they're everywhere. A second animal is the iguana. I'm not talking about the ones people keep as pets; the ones in the islands are huge! The shortest one I saw was about three feet long. A species that's not unusual (especially to a Floridian like me) is mosquitoes. It's worth mentioning because I was not prepared for them and was eaten alive. Bug spray is a must! One of the really neat features of the island is all the history on it. A short hike from Maho Bay (or from almost anywhere on the tiny island) are the ruins of an old sugar mill that was used when the islands were the center of the sugar and rum trade. The ruins are very much intact and the signs help fill in any gaps that might exist. It's easy to imagine how the system would have worked. There's also a lady in the old cooking house who makes bread and cookies to give out to the visitors. No trip to the islands would be complete without visiting the most-photograpehd beach there. Trunk Bay is a beautiful beach with pure, white sand, clear water and the famous underwater snorkeling trail. The trail is a series of underwater markers that you follow as you snorkel and they tell you about the sealife you are likely to encounter. I recommend going to Trunk after 4 o'clock. If you go before that you will run into all the tourists from the cruise ships. We were there at 3 and the beach was packed; but at 4 all the tourists left and we had the beach to ourselves. All the fish along the snorkeling trail that had gone away to avoid the choas had returned. It was our own little slice of paradise. While there are lots of fun things to do on St. John and you could probably spend an entire week just exploring that island we wanted to go and some of the other islands too. In order to do this we took a day cruise to the British Virgin Islands. Our cruise consisted on two snorkeling stops, lunch, and a tour of the Baths.The Baths are huge rock formations that formed with the island. It's hard to accurately convey how enormous these formations are until you actually stand there and next to them. The picture on the left is Mike and me at just one of the many formations that tower above human heads. Our guide was really cool. He'd been there many times and knew his way around so we got to go climbing on the rocks, down below them into the pools and all around. The picture on the top of this page is me at the Baths climbing into one of the rocks. It was truly spectacular and my favorite part of the trip. If you do go to the islands you must stop here. Also on our day cruise were two more snorkeling stops and a stop for lunch on Cooper Island. Cooper Island is 8 square miles and home to the 12 people who run the small hotel, the only building on the island. Another island besides St. John where we spent some times was St. Thomas. The airport is on St. Thomas so we left St. John a day early and spent our last night on St. Thomas. The main town of Charlotte Amalie is famous for its shopping. For people who like to shop till they drop this is the place to be. Shops selling everything from tacky souvenirs to Rolexes seemed to go on forever. We choose to stay at Hotel 1829 (right) which was a good decision. It was close to all the shopping and not too far from the airport. The hotel itself was very charming with much of the same decor in place as when it was built in 1829. It was also next door to Herve Restaurant. We had dinner there and, while very expensive, was the best dinner I've had in a long time, possibly in my entire life. The little bar inside the hotel offered a very relaxed atmosphere that was more like that of St. John than the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas. After seven days of pure paradise we had to leave. The trip had been the perfect mix of action and relaxation. Of all the places I've visted this one fits me and my style the best and is my favorite. I would highly recomend it as a vacation spot for couples or for someone looking a good deal of rest and relaxation. Links from some of the places I mentioned are available on my "Travel Reflections" page. Dining Lodging Fun Stuff


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