St. John

The Secrets of St. John, USVI

You won’t find St. John, USVI on any cruise itinerary and that’s both good and bad. It’s good because you’ll never have to share the island with platoons of cruise passengers. If you are on a ship it’s bad because if unless you take an excursion from St. Thomas, you’ll never experience the laid back appeal of this small parcel of Virgin Island paradise.

Working on ships and calling in at St.Thomas every Friday back in the eighties, we did everything possible to keep St. John as our secret little retreat, making an escape to the island a weekly ritual.

Once the ship had docked in St. Thomas and we had dispatched our cruise guests onto the island excursions, my wife and I would pack our backpacks with ham and cheese sandwiches, a bag of Doritos and an obligatory fresh soursop or pineapple we had acquired from the market in St. Lucia. Fleeing the ship, we’d grab a taxi to Red Hook ferry terminal for the 20 minute channel crossing to Cruz Bay where we would commandeer a jitney to be dropped off at a specific no name beach with no observable entrance, bars or cafes and no one else to share it with. We considered it ours!

Decked out in my then fashionable Speedos, Cheryl in a bikini, a beach blanket on the pristine white sand as our picnic table and the crystal clear Caribbean to play in, it was hedonism at its best.  Life was good. 

Life is Good on St. John 

Incredibly, thirty plus years later, life is still good on St. John. With nearly 2/3 of the island designated as National Park, commercial and even residential development has thankfully been held in check. The blessings of unblemished nature still provide an indelible panorama of eye candy landscapes. Although Coral Bay on the east side was the original settlement on the island, the only actual town of Cruz Bay maintains its endearing charm.

The Grande Bay Resort is an ideal choice for visitors that appreciate deluxe condominium-style accommodations as opposed to traditional hotel rooms.  With a sweeping view of the harbor overlooking Cruz Bay, the property is isolated from the buzz of day-trip arrivals coming off the ferry yet conveniently situated just a short walk from the shops and popular beach side restaurants.

St. John

Cruz Bay | Photo: Steve Leland

Any conversation about the island will inevitably center around its trophy beaches with names like a Maho, Cinnamon, Honeymoon and a dozen others. But it’s the Instagram-ready crescent of white sand known as Trunk Bay that is possibly the most photographed beach site in the entire Caribbean. The crystal clear turquoise sea offers an invitation to snorkel over a uniquely marked snorkeling trail and while all of the beaches vie for itinerary inclusion, St. John is more than just sun and sand.

St. John, USVI

Trunk Bay | Photo: Steve Leland

Renting a Jeep or taking an excursion exposes the island’s historical and sugarcane legacy with visits to the ruins of Fortsberg, Sieben and Annaberg Plantations. For an invigorating walk in the park, the Virgin Islands National Park offers up no less than 6 hiking trails. The underwater world comes alive with exceptional scuba diving opportunities or rent a boat for a day of coastal exploration.

St. John

Annaberg Ruins | Photo: Steve Leland

Mongoose Junction provides relief for shopaholic addiction with stores and cafes set in a small maze like complex. Adjacent to the ferry terminal, vendors selling crafts and souvenirs have set up small kiosks and jewelry, island fashion and excursion outlets are interspersed amongst beach bars and restaurants in Cruz Bay’s Wharfside Village.

Dining in St. John centers around island flavors with an emphasis on the bounty of the sea. Five star dining venues share prominence with casual seafront establishments serving conch fritters to lobster, burgers to prime steak and wings to wasabi. It’s all here for you to savor.

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When the day is done, there is nothing that evokes the Caribbean vibe more than a sunset cruise. The color riddled view of the sinking sun serves as a backdrop for a fun filled evening of rum punch and light snacks served onboard the catamaran Jammin’ sailing from the Westin Resort.

Although there is no airport on St. John, getting there is easy with hourly ferries departing Red Hook Terminal on the east coast of St. Thomas or from more centralized Crown Bay three or four times daily. A visit to St. John provides a touch of personal intimacy, beach life fantasy spiced with Caribbean character. The little secret we once held is now well known and what we then considered ours can now be yours.

As a former Cruise Director, Steve has been cruising the world for the past forty years. Bringing a new dimension to cruise journalism, he continues to spin the globe searching for off the grid cruise adventures and unplugged destinations to share with Porthole Cruise Magazine readers.