Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflections on St. John, USVI

Two weeks after returning from Maho Bay Camps, St, John (see previous post), our family feels strongly that we want to return.

So strongly, in fact, that we've made reservations for June when the prices are at their lowest!

Yes, it was expensive to eat anywhere on the island, and, yes, the Maho Bay cabins are spartan and require a hike to the common ablution blocks to find a toilet and shower.  But the breathtaking views, the beautiful beaches, and the convenience of being in the ideal location on the island for water activities trump the inconveniences.

Now, however, we cannot find cheap airfares in June, the low season, which seems ironic, since we were able to snag a deal on air at the height of the Christmas holiday period.  Maybe the airlines' yield management systems just haven't yet worked their complex mathematical magic on unsold seat inventory to and from St. Thomas for the summer months.  

Truth is, we can't wait to go back!  St. John's beaches have a special allure. 

If we had rented a fancy St. John "villa" high up on a hilltop, though, rather than primitive Maho Bay Camps, I am not sure we'd have had the same happy experience, nor would we feel the pull to return.  (That said, the villas are preferred by most visitors; in fact, they are extremely popular and often booked up a year in advance.)

Another observation pertains to the waste of an entire day to go anywhere by air (in each direction).  This doesn't have so much to do with St. John as it does with the logistics of flying.  It sounds so simple: "Let's fly down to St. John!"  Or: "Time to book our flights to Montana for this summer."  But almost anywhere you go will burn up an entire day at each end of a trip.

To get to Maho Bay Camps on St. John, for example, we left our house to drive to the RDU airport at 3:45 AM, parked the car in the big deck, and schlepped our luggage and ourselves to the terminal.  Then endured the TSA security screen, grabbed a bagel, visited the airline club, rushed to the gate for our flight to Atlanta, boarded the plane 30-40 minutes ahead of departure, stowed the luggage in the overhead compartments, and waited for the plane to fill. 

Pushed back; taxied; took off; cruised; descended; landed; taxied to gate; deplaned with luggage.  Consulted monitors for connecting gate and flight status; hit the toilets; took the ATL subway to correct terminal; traipsed to gate for flight to St. Thomas; waited. 

Boarded the plane 30-40 minutes ahead of departure, stowed the luggage in the overhead compartments, and waited for the plane to fill.  Pushed back; taxied; took off; cruised; descended; landed; taxied to gate; deplaned with luggage.   

Hit the St. Thomas airport bathrooms.  Asked for directions to taxi stand going to Red Hook where ferries leave for Cruz Bay, St. John; grabbed cheeseburgers and fries for the kids; bought cheap rum in airport duty free shop; located Red Hook taxi; loaded luggage into taxi van; boarded and waited for taxi to fill up.

Left airport and threaded through heavy Charlotte Amalie city traffic; stopped at several resorts en route to Red Hook to drop off customers; because of stops, arrived Red Hook 5 minutes too late for the hourly ferry service; paid taxi driver $60 for 4 people (a 55 minute ride from the airport in a shared taxi).

Bought tickets ($15 for 4 people) for next ferry, due to leave in 55 minutes; found on-site bar at ferry terminal and downed an island cocktail, followed by two beers after discovering beer special was half the price of cocktails; began to enjoy the island atmosphere as reggae music thumped from the jukebox.

Boarded ferry with family and luggage and a beer in a plastic cup; relaxed even more as the ferry churned through heavy swells in the channel between St. Thomas and St. John; arrived Cruz Bay; slowly disembarked ferry; made way off dock to waiting taxi stands; found Mr. Frett who runs Frett's Taxi, the regular shuttle between Cruz Bay and Maho Bay Camps.

Paid Mr. Frett for four passengers plus luggage ($44); boarded open-air body on back on large Ford pickup chassis; waited for taxi to fill up; departed Cruz Bay; stopped at several gorgeous lookouts en route (Caneel Bay, Trunk Bay, Maho Bay); arrived Maho Bay Camps just about 5:00 PM.

Since St. John is on Atlantic Standard Time, one hour later than Eastern Time, the trip door-to-door took 12 hours.  Actual time in the air on our two flights was about 4 fours.  The remaining 8 hours of transit time was all the stuff before, during, and after airplane time.

Twelve hours!  You know, it's just not that far from North Carolina to St. John.

The trip home took just as long. 

Point being, trips involving air almost always involve significant indirect time in addition to the real flight times.  Unavoidable, yes, but what a pity that it's such a waste of time. 

In the old days, before airplanes and automobiles became the standard American means of transit, passenger trains took us from city center to city center, or to and from town centers.  The need and realistic prospects for improved passenger train options in the USA is a subject I want to explore in future posts.


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