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, December 20, 2012

St. John Bliss, Part 1

You gotta love St. John to make the effort to get there because it's not that easy.  As I wrote in my earlier post, visiting the island involves first flying to its larger sister in the U. S. Virgin Islands archipelago, St. Thomas (STT airport code).  Tiny, mountainous St. John has no airport even for itty-bitty planes.  

Once on the ground in St. Thomas, one must get to a ferry terminal that offers service to St. John. Finally on St. John, despite it being just 13 miles long, you have to pay for expensive taxis or rental cars to get around.  There are few reasonably-priced accommodations.  Food and drink are not cheap, and the one gas station on the island commands a hefty premium when refilling a rental car.  But it's still worth the trouble, time, and expense; there are no more beautiful beaches on earth than along the north coast, and I've seen a great many of the world's finest beaches.

Back to the ferry options from St. Thomas to St. John:  There are two ferry terminals, one in downtown Charlotte Amalie which offers intermittent service, and the second in Red Hook which offers service at the top of each hour from early morning up to midnight most days.  Charlotte Amalie is a short cab ride from the airport, but the ferry is costlier and takes longer, not to mention fewer daily sailings.  

We prefer the certainty of the hourly ferries from Red Hook, so we shell out the $15 per person (including luggage) for the sometimes long cab ride from STT airport to Red Hook.  In bad traffic that route can take over an hour, though 40-45 minutes is normal.  

Even if we arrive just after a ferry has departed, our island holiday starts at the bar there drinking a couple of rum punches or an El Presidente pilsener while waiting 50 minutes for the next ferry.  Heck, you can even bring your booze or beer aboard the boat if you ask the bartender for a plastic cup.

For our recent visit over Thanksgiving week, however, we arrived way too late to make the last Red Hook ferry, forcing us to stay overnight in a Best Western at the airport.  Having seen the property on previous trips, I knew we could walk there and save a cab fare.  In the end, though, I showed my ignorance by doing so.

We were tired from the long flights and hoofed it around an unnecessary loop for twenty minutes before finally departing the airport.  Once on the exit road that parallels the single runway and looking back, we realized that we could have saved ourselves fifteen minutes by cutting through the parking lot.  Nonetheless, my wife and I were proud of ourselves for saving a few bucks and demonstrating to our two kids (ages 13 and 9) how to be resourceful.

The gaudy Best Western sign soon hove into view through my sweat-stained glasses, and, glad to have made it, I stopped in the lobby to catch my breath before showing my reservation to the single desk clerk on duty late at night.  I knew something was amiss when he started puzzling over my name and began punching his computer keyboard.    With apologies, he told us that we were at the wrong Best Western property.

"What?!" I exclaimed.  "There's only one Best Western, and this is IT!"  The clerk patiently explained that this was a common problem.  In fact there are two Best Western Hotels near the STT airport; ours was down the road another mile or two, he wasn't sure just how far, and his property was slammed.  He even offered to drive us there, seeing how tired, exhausted, and sweaty we all were.  But just then a big family arrived from the airport in a cab and had to be checked in, and so the clerk was distracted.  We opted to keep walking.

Another 20 minutes or so on foot down the highway, and we were finally within sight of the second Best Western.  Who knew?!  If I'd taken a cab, I could have saved almost an hour.  

After checking into our very ordinary room (which isn't even worth describing), it was past midnight.  Nonetheless, my wife and I were determined to use the welcome drink coupons after the tiresome confusion of finding the hotel.  We grabbed two tasty rum punches at the beach bar just as it was closing and took the frosty glasses back to our room.  After gulping them down greedily, sleep overcame us quickly.  Our kids had hit the hay soon after reaching the room.  As I drifted off I reflected sadly that I'd paid $210 for this small space to lay our heads for less than six hours.  Oh well, I rationalized, such is the price of a tropical beach vacation.

The few hours of sleep did us all a world of good, and we had checked out, grabbed a cab, and reached Red Hook the following morning in time to board the 9:00 AM ferry for Cruz Bay, St. John. The twenty minute boat ride gave us time to get in the right island mood.  We stopped across the small ferry dock square to eat at our favorite Cruz Bay breakfast spot, JJ's Texas Coast Cafe.   

While waiting for our food, I walked the short block over to Spencer's Rental Car to get the contract paperwork out of the way.  I was still in multi-tasking mode, not yet having spun down my gyro to simple bliss mode.  

I wasn't too pleased to find that Carmilla, the colorful old native-born gal who runs Spencer's part time while she pursues her full-time profession downing cold brews at the always-open reggae bar across the street, had raised the rate for a Ford Escape from $75 to $85 per day.  Maybe the cost of beer had gone up at the bar, I thought.  

Whatever, Carmilla surely wasn't interested in answering my question about the overnight 13% rate increase, and instead cackled at me to check the car for damages before taking it.  As I marked the various scrapes and dents on the rental car contract, I again reflected that such is the price of a tropical beach vacation.  Best not to ask too many questions; just pay and go and enjoy.

The short eight mile drive from Cruz Bay to Maho Bay Eco-Camps is without argument one of the most spectacular on earth, with one stunning sugar sand beach bay overlook after another along the road: Caneel Bay, Hawk's Nest Bay, Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Big Maho Bay, Little Maho Bay, and Francis Bay.  We never tire of the drive, all part of the magic of St. John.  Somewhere along that road I slipped into semi-bliss mode.

Maho Bay Eco-Camps had reserved tent cabin A7 for us, a long walk down the endless boardwalk under the tree canopy.  Our reward was a gorgeous view of Big Maho Bay with several big iguanas placidly munching leaves around the cabin.  A quick change into bathing suits, and we were off to the beach to snorkel Little Maho and Big Maho Bays.  

My wife and I were looking for the big Green Turtles that munch on the short sea grass in Big Maho, and we weren't disappointed.  The first turtle we saw was massive, the biggest we'd ever seen.  I guessed its weight at near 300 pounds.  As I was floating in the crystal-clear water just six feet above it, I realized I was finally in full-tropical-island-deep-bliss mode.  Aaaah!  There's nothing like that feeling of relaxation.

And that was all before lunch on our first day.

2 Comments:

Blogger Josh Hill said...

We rented a car in St Thomas, rode the Car Ferry for $50 roundtrip with luggage. We had the jeep to explore as soon as we landed. I would certainly recommended Amelia Car Rental. They met us with the jeep keys as we were getting our bags from the terminal and we were on our way Dec 21-Dec 28 2014

4/09/2014 5:32 PM  
Blogger Josh Hill said...

I would recommend renting the jeep in St Thomas. We paid about $50 dollars extra at Amelia Car Rental. They met us with the keys before we even got our bags off the conveyor from the plane. We took the Car Ferry from Red Hook $50.00 roundtrip with luggage. If you spent 60 on a cab and had to walk to your hotel you would certainly make up the difference. I love the story though. We stayed in St. John Dec 21-28 2014

4/09/2014 5:35 PM  

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