Summer Vacation in the Virgin Islands

Published: April 10th 2011
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By now the kids were strongly opposed to any more road trips. They wanted to go to a beach and they wanted to bring their friends along. We also wanted to stay at a beach for a week or more, but we didn’t want to bring friends along. Besides, there wasn’t room for three friends in our van.

This meant we had to fly somewhere, and since we had done all 50 states, where better to go than a U.S. territory. Linda and I had been to every U.S. territory except American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. We weren’t making this our next goal as both territories are expensive to get to. Nevertheless, we decided that the U.S. Virgin Islands would be a great next destination.

1 July 2003 Tuesday. Our flight from Dulles to San Juan and then to St Thomas was uneventful. In my research, I learned that taxis were very expensive; you pay per passenger. So I rented a car for the day, which meant that not only would we have transportation to the hotel, but also for 24 hours which would allow us to see some of the island; and all for less than the cost of a taxi.

We checked into the Renaissance Grand Beach Hotel, on Water Bay at the east end of the island. We had connecting rooms facing the pool and the beach, for a very good price I found on line. We soon learned that food prices were also very high. Our solution was never eat at the restaurant, but order room service when we had meals at the hotel. That way Linda and I split an entree and the kids ordered from the children’s menu even though they were over 12. This cut the cost of meals in half…at least.

But for supper we had the car, so drove to Red Hook. Our restaurant was next to a boat rental business, so I wandered over to talk to the owner. He assured me that I could handle the 28 foot Boston whaler. We wanted to visit British Tortola and had renewed our passports so we could do so. Tours were over $100/person. The boat was $300 for the day, so I did the math and reserved the boat for July 4th. We returned to the hotel to watch the sun set on the beach, and then watched TV before turning in.

2 July 2003 Wednesday. Since we had the car until mid afternoon, we decided to tour the island. Our first stop was the cruise ship docks at Charlotte Amalie. Several ships were at dock including the Disney liner which got the kids interest. We shopped at the duty free shops and I bought a digital camera. We then went into town and walked around to see the sights and shopped some more…mostly souvenir T-shirts and hats. We ate lunch at McD’s to save on our food budget. We then went to a grocery store to buy breakfast and lunch items, such as sodeas, milk, cold cereal, bread, peanut butter and jelly, and cold cuts, that would further keep our food costs down for the next few days that we would remain at the hotel. Even groceries were expensive. I then dropped off the family at the hotel and returned the rental car, paying for one person in the taxi. We swam in the pool or the ocean for the rest of the afternoon and had supper in our room. The evening was strolling on the beach, watching TV or playing games.

3 July 2003
View of St Thomas USVI to the southView of St Thomas USVI to the southView of St Thomas USVI to the south

Charlotte Amalie and cruise ships at port
Thursday. The hotel provided snorkel equipment so we walked to a nearby beach that had coral reefs. We spent the morning snorkeling among the colorful fish along the reef. We returned to the hotel for lunch in our room and then spent the afternoon in the hotel pool. Rosanna didn’t apply enough suntan lotions so got really burned. I missed a few spots on my side an got some color too.

4 July 2003 Friday. When I woke up I noticed the wind was blowing stronger than previous days. Apparently there was a hurricane approaching the islands, but it was still over 300 miles to the east. I called the boat rental company to see what they recommended, as we had reserved a boat for the day. They thought I would do fine. I took a taxi to Red Hook, where we reviewed my plans for the day. I was planning to cross to St Johns and then to British Tortola. They said that if I stayed in the lee of the islands, just south of Thatch Key, Grass Key, Mingo Cay, and Lovango Cay and just north of St John’s until I made it around Whistling Cay, and across the channel to the south side of Grand Thatch, I should be able to make it to Fisherman’s Cay at British Tortola. They gave me nautical charts showing where the reefs were.

So I checked out the boat and sailed back to the hotel dock. The wind had calmed down so it was easy to tie up and load the family. As soon as we left the protection of Water Bay, the water got rough; waves were about 4 feet. Linda and the kids started screaming in fear. Linda threatened to divorce me if we didn’t turn around immediately. I reassured them that I knew what I was doing, and was following the directions given to me. I kept going and after awhile they stopped screaming. We made it as far as Whistling Cay, and as we entered the channel crossing to Grand Thatch, it was like entering a wind tunnel. The hurricane winds were forced through this narrow passage causing the sea to become really rough. Screaming started again, including me. Fortunately, between waves, I was able to turn the boat around and soon we were protected again by being on the lee side of Whistling Cay. We checked out each of the bays along the north shore of St Johns, including Maho Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, which were too crowded relatively speaking, and decided to tie up to a buoy at Hawksnest Bay, which we had to ourselves.

It took a few tries to catch the buoy, but soon we were in the water in our snorkel gear swimming among the fishes. When we got tired, we swam to shore and rested on the white sand under the cover of assorted foliage. By 3 pm we were ready to sail home. The wind had definitely picked up so the crossing to St Thomas was rougher. But at least the wind was behind us, and the waves were driving us forward.

As we approached the dock of the hotel I realized I had a problem. The dock was perpendicular to the shore with a T across the end. I wanted to dock at the top of the T, but the wind was blowing the boat against it. I scraped the bow coming in and pulled away immediately to try to find another approach. The bay was full of sail boats and kayaks and swimmers. Pretty soon everyone was looking at me. I tried to go to the end of the T, and almost rammed the bow but reverse kicked in just in time. I finally docked behind the T, and the kids disembarked. Linda decided she would accompany me in case I needed help, but we were able to make it back to Red Hook and dock there without any problems. I refilled the gas tank and oil…for $66. They inspected the boat, starting with the propeller which we hadn’t checked before leaving. I hadn’t hit any reefs, but they found damage to the propeller. I knew then that they had planned all along to find this damage and charge me an arm and a leg. They noted the scrap on the bow, but didn’t seem too concerned with it. They told me that they would provide me the cost of the damages after the weekend. So until Monday I lived in dread.

I agreed with Linda’s ultimatum that I would never rent or buy a boat again! When we told the receptionist at the hotel about our experience he informed us that Hawksnest Bay was usually swarming with sharks. We had only seen a few barracuda, but could only imagine how things could have become much worse. That evening we sat on the beach and watched the fireworks across the channel at Cruz Bay, St Johns.

5 July 2003 Saturday. After the experience from the day before everyone just wanted to chill by the pool or at the beach. So we did.

6 July 2003 Sunday. Tamara and Rosanna remembered at the beach where we swam among the fish and the coral reefs, there were women who were braiding hair, so we walked over there and they had their hair done in cornrows. We spent the morning there snorkeling again. We had a lunch of local food at one of the shacks on the beach. I talked to the cook who shared folklore with me; in particular what plants and herbs were good for which ailments. He told me what to take for my high blood pressure, but I didn’t have anything to write it down so subsequently forgot. We returned to the hotel and chilled by the pool. The evening was the same as previously.

7 July 2003 Monday. I called the boat rental company and was told that they would retain my security deposit of $500 o cover the damages. So the boat cost me $300 + $66 + $500; more than the tour would have cost. But the experience was unforgettable, so it was worth it. And I rationalized that it cost about what we paid to fly over Mt McKinley the year before. I then took a taxi to the airport to pick up a rental car for the 24 hours before we needed to check in for our flight the next day. I drove back to the hotel and picked up the family. We drove to Charlotte Amalie where we ate in a local restaurant to try some more of the ethnic food. We didn’t spend much time in town as we wanted to see the rest of the island. We drove around the island clockwise and stopped at Magens Bay, one of the most scenic bays on the island. We drove to the top of the ridge that runs from east to west and got good views of the entire island with the ships docked in Charlotte Amalie far below. We returned to our hotel for our last swims at the coral reef and the hotel pool.

8 July 2003 Tuesday. We returned out snorkel gear and swam in the pool until it was time to check out and drive to the airport. I returned the rental car and check in for our flight. We flew via Miami back to Dulles. Home Sweet Home!

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