After a year and a half of not being on an airplane and not traveling any farther than 8 hours from home, we finally kickstarted our travels back up with a trip to St. John, US Virgin Islands in early June. Al had just become a US Citizen in the recent months and hadn’t gotten his hands on his US passport yet so we needed to choose a destination where he didn’t need one. Since Guam seems just a little extra, we landed on USVI. After a very quick Google search comparing the three islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, we decided St. John was the most up our alley: quiet, relaxing, best beaches of the three. SOLD!
I had never been to a US territory and wasn’t sure what to expect. The only thing I had to go on was our Airbnb lady saying, “Wellllll, it’s America, but not really”. When we landed in St. Thomas and got on the road to the ferry port in Red Hook to take us to St. John, I was immediately glad we chose to not stay on St. Thomas. If I’m on a tropical island vacay, I don’t want to be surrounded by Wendy’s and Home Depot. It was definitely just too busy, too much hubbub, and one too many Sbarros for our liking.
St. John was a different story. There were no chains to speak of and only one main small town, Cruz Bay, with another smaller “town” on the other side of the island, Coral Bay, that can barely even be called that considering it’s just like two roads with a few restaurants and stores on it. We actually decided to stay over in Coral Bay and again, are glad we did. We wanted peace and quiet and that’s what we got over there. Cruz Bay and Coral Bay are only about 20-30 minutes drive from each other and are on opposite ends of the island. You can get anywhere you need to go on St. John within a 30 minute timeframe no problem.
Now…onto what you came here for: The Reasons We Probably Won’t Go Back To St. John Because It’s Just Kinda Meh.
St. John is expensive AF
Imagine, if you will, your run-of-the-mill developing island nation. The small grocery markets full of unusual smells, the coconut trees hanging over the roads, the open air restaurants with plastic chairs, the colorful yet slightly worn cement houses, and the chickens and goats in the road. Now throw a few American flags and Manhattan prices in the mix and you have St. John. Almost everything, and I mean literally everything, was astronomically more expensive than I was expecting (except rum. Rum was $7 a liter). Just going out to lunch with a few drinks, some fish and chips and nachos can easily run you $50+. A nice dinner with appetizers, some seafood, and wine is pushing $100+. Most main entrees were at least $20 and lunch type foods were in the high teens. The atmosphere and menu pricing did not match and I wasn’t quite a fan of that juxtaposition.
St. John isn’t a place to stay in a resort as there aren’t many. I found most of the island is villa rentals. There aren’t many beachfront properties and almost all of the villa rentals are dotted along the mountainsides with views from up high. And those rentals are priceyyyyy. We lucked out with one of the most affordable places on the entire island and still paid $1300 for the week. (Airbnb link here.) Maybe for a lot of you that’s a steal, but knowing there are much cheaper destinations elsewhere had me all like o.O. I do, however, highly recommend where we stayed if you’re cool with no aircon, being remote, and basic amenities. Cute cuddly cat named Squirrel included.
Vehicle rentals (which mostly are Jeeps) are also quite pricey…and are a MUST. It would be difficult to get around to all the places and beaches if you don’t rent a vehicle. I saw prices for one week starting at $500 but most were in the $600s+. We couldn’t find an available vehicle on either St. John or St. Thomas (you can rent at STT, drive it to the ferry port and then take it on the car ferry to St. John) and got lucky that our Airbnb lady let us rent her personal car. So book those well in advance.
Overall, prepare for the feel of the typical inexpensive island vacation but complete with the sticker shock of big city USA.
I didn’t feel a connection
This is definitely my own personal opinion, but I didn’t feel anything special or magical while on St. John. There are places around the world that I immediately have felt strong connections with in that “I could live here” kind of feeling, but I didn’t feel any of those type goosebumps there. It was a lovely place, but nothing stood out to me as exceptional. It was very average and I found there wasn’t really a feeling of local food flare at all…Hence more to my feeling of “meh”. I always like to try local food while traveling and there didn’t really seem to be that? And also some of the seafood (especially shrimp) seemed frozen and I was just a little confused.
That being said…
I’ve seen white sand, clear turquoise water beaches all around the world and I have to say, St. John has some of the best beaches I’ve ever seen. I know some of the beaches get ranked in the world’s top and now I see why. We hit up seven beaches (Maho, Cinnamon, Trunk, Jumbie, Oppenheimer, Hawksnest, and Honeymoon), some more than once, and the beaches are, in my opinion, the only standout features of the island. A beach blog post will follow I think because I have a lot to say about the ones we visited!
I’ve 100% decided that there is one condition and one condition only in which I would make a repeat trip to St. John…and that’s if we get a group of friends and all go together. A group of 6-8 people would make this a much more enjoyable destination for me because a lot of the enormous costs are split. You can afford one of the super nice villas (or even not overly super nice, they are all pricey) and vehicle rental costs are split…therefore making the food and restaurant price tag a little more palatable. I’m not a luxury travel promoter or writer-abouter but nor am I a hostel-stayer. I’m kind of in the middle. Just a deal-finder, a saver of travel money. I like getting the best I possibly can for the lowest possible price and those price tags are what threw me most off of St. John. I say this with the upmost seriousness in the world: Our final dollar amount spent for our trip to St. John is the same as a trip to Thailand. So to me…I just can’t justify it. Other than the beaches. The beaches are awesome.