WRITTEN BY: ALEX RICHWAGEN
This week's review is through the eyes of my good buddy, Rhett. Thank you for your contributions. The overall beach condition in St John is something out of a storybook with all the things you are looking to get at a tropical island. Let’s start with the sand condition. The sand within the multiple beaches in St. John are very pristine, fine, super soft, and is really a crushed coral type of sand. One of my biggest pet peeves is walking on a beach full of shells like Cocoa Beach or Sanibel Island (south of Fort Myers). You certainly will not have this issue in St. John.
There are no shells when strolling up and down the shoreline, but you might need to watch the slope while walking. The beach itself is slightly slanted within 20 yards from the tree line. The beach areas are not that big in general, but it doesn’t matter. The tropical beach areas are generally not very crowded, making it a great spot for couples or honeymoons filled with relaxation (unless you happen to be there during November to March when it’s super busy). The beaches are in general not very commercialized and are best used either at the hotel or simply a day trip.
The ocean water surrounding the island is crystal clear blue. On a good day (like most), you can see at least 50 feet to the bottom of the ocean floor accompanied with beautiful coral reefs within 50 yards from the shore. There really is an abundance of coral reefs to explore, so don’t worry about venturing too far out in order to find it. St. John is a great spot for snorkeling adventures to see the reef, sea turtles (2-3 feet across), and several other creatures under the sea.
Among the other creatures that can be seen are sting rays, Caribbean Fish, Nurse Sharks, Eagle Rays, and even Tarpons. If snorkeling isn’t really your thing or if you just want to go exploring even further out, there are other options. Charter boats are available for marlin fishing, scuba diving, more snorkeling, or just a nice boat ride. One other hint is charter boats can be used for a few days to “island hop” and really get a feel for more of the Virgin Islands. If you happen to be visiting during late winter to early spring, you may actually get the opportunity to see some very large whales swimming by during their annual migrations.
Amenities on the beach -
On the North Side is the Virgin Islands National Park. At the national park, there is one beach that allows cabin rentals for folks with overnight stay. Let me help you out with this decision. It’s not very nice and is almost comparable to being thrust into the bad camping adventure in a small shack. I would highly recommend that for you sleeping in one of the hotels or rental houses I’ll briefly discuss later in the article. This one spot, Cinnamon Bay, is similar to roughing it in the wilderness and I do not recommend from a camping idea. Overall, it’s not great for families, especially those looking for a tropical paradise getaway to truly get away.
I would however highly recommend staying at Caneel Bay, which comes with a 5-Star hotel rating and is offers a great, overall luxury experience. The resort at Caneel Bay is setup to allow folks to explore during the day with different water sports or water games like kayaking, paddle boarding, or just simply snorkeling. In the resort are standard amenities of modern hotel like an oversized pool, lounge chairs, cabana rentals, and a bar full of cocktails. Not staying at Caneel Bay? Don’t worry, there’s only a world famous beach close by.
Trunk Bay, was featured as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by Nat’l Geographic Magazine. Everything we talked about earlier, just say the atmosphere is now x2. The pristine sand and environment is the surreal place you’ll want to settle down for a day to visit. There’s one small catch, patrons actually have to pay (only $6 per person), so be sure to bring some cash. On the beach itself, there are a few cafés that serve food (similar to ball park – hot dogs, burgers, fries) to satisfy the hunger, daiquiris for thirst, and of course, sunscreen to keep from getting burned. It’s a must see spot while visiting St. John. One of the great things about the beaches in general is that it’s not commercialized in a similar sense to a Clearwater Beach or South Beach in Florida. Why is that great? Well, it’s customary to bring your own beer and booze to the beach in an ice chest and go at your own pace. The local flavor is that people like to do it themselves in St. John.
I mentioned earlier about camping as not the best option. Well, during the day at Cinnamon Bay there’s plenty to do. There’s a full restaurant with food/drinks, a local spot to rent paddleboards, kayaks, and there’s showers/changing rooms available. One thing to note that’s different from most beaches is that you cannot rent jet skis. The local government made the decision to protect the coral reefs, which are endangered. Cinnamon Bay is the largest beach on the island meaning you will find plenty of people there for the day. Keep in mind to keep boom boxes to a lower volume as loud music is prohibited. The concept is to enjoy the island and the nature while visiting.
Where to stay –
Here’s a great idea for your dream vacation in St. John. Make it affordable and make it home like. Bring some family or friends and rent a vacation rental house for something like $3,000 for the week. It will save a ton of money and I highly recommend against the hotels as they are overpriced. Go to a sites like vrbo.com or caribbeanvilla.com and get a 5 bedroom house for the week. Like I said, it will cost somewhere between $3-5k per week, and you will have all the luxury you need. Most come equipped with their own pool, plenty of rooms, plenty of space, and a grill on the patio to enjoy your own atmosphere and music with people you love. The big hotels charge about $500 per room per night like the Westin St. John and Caneel Bay Resort. Stick to the independent rental companies as they truly rule the day and the experience. I would look for something that can accommodate 6 or more people, get a big house, have a great experience, and make a great vacation.
The resorts are great only if you are staying as a couple on a romantic getaway. Use them if you don’t want to venture out and stay in a remote location. The houses are much better for friend/family cooking their own food, maintain a private pool, and not worrying about getting all dressed to the nines. My idea of a great vacation can start with a quick stop at the grocery and liquor store (like Starfish Market), and end with steaks, cigars, and play music as loud as you want. Remember, enjoy the island and enjoy the view. The same food can be had at the grocery store for half the expensive costs since all the food must be flown in from the mainland. Don’t worry, I’ll still give you a few places to visit.
Asolare – This is easily the best restaurant on the island. First off, it sits on a cliff with a tremendous view where it’s possible to see St. Thomas in the distance and its lights twinkling at night. The ambiance is really top notch. Let’s start with some drinks at the bar (of course). They have something here that I have only seen in a few spots in my travels. It’s a smoker for cocktails that can alter the flavor ever so slightly to make a completely different tasting experience. The contraption infuses the drinks with a smoke flavor like bacon, Maplewood, or even just orange that works awesome with cocktails like an old fashion, Mai Tai, or simply bourbon on the rocks. The food? I thought you’d never ask. I grabbed the Seafood Risotto that was filled with rice, and amazing broth covered with conch, sea diver scallops, and large tiger shrimp. If you can’t find it, don’t worry. The menu is always changing similar to a Seasons 52. Overall, I would rate the service as a 10, view as a 10, food as an 8, drink as an 8, and the value as a 6. Everything is great at the restaurant, but it’s a bit too much overpriced.
Woody’s Seafood Saloon – Woody’s is a true dive bar meaning if you are looking for fancy sit-down, you are in the wrong spot. For the rest of us just looking for a good time, cold beers, and live music, Woody’s is for you. First off, they have a great daily happy hour from 3-6 with $1 Beers, $1 Wells, and $1 off all drinks. There’s a few drinks that are must try. Grab the “Limin Coconut” as it puts a slight lime flavor on an old-time classic. The other is the Massive Margarita. It’s nothing too crazy, just a classic drink done extremely well. On the food side, the fresh fish sandwiches and cheeseburgers is what Woody’s is known for to most people. I’ve had both and you literally cannot go wrong either way. There’s plenty of great appetizers to try like the Shark Nuggets, Jalapeno Poppers, or the Corn Crusted Scallops. Woody’s definitely will keep you coming back for more.
One last tip. Accessibility can sometimes be a small issue. When you arrive, reserve a jeep rental at the airport to take wherever you want to be. They will tell you not to bring jeeps from St. Thomas to St John, but don’t worry about that. There’s a car ferry to help get across multiple islands and turns out to be very convenient. Don’t worry about getting in trouble as I have been doing this for years and no one checks or even seems to care. Don’t forget to drive on the left side of the road too to keep out of trouble with other things.
St John is a mini tropical paradise island just for you. It’s a great spot to go visit and explore for 5-7 days or maybe a few extra. If you would like to add to the article or feel like I missed your favorite spot, please feel free to leave it in the comments section so others can see too. I’m always willing to learn a new spot or ideas when it comes to St. John, Virgin Islands.