It’s the People

A Trip to
St. Thomas & St. John

17 Min Read

Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I.

“We’ll just rent something when we get there.” That’s what I thought!
Weeks leading up to our trip to the Virgin Islands, we planned out our budget. We had a nice spreadsheet listing everything from flights to food. Rental cars on St. Thomas, where we ultimately stayed, were plenty and not expensive at all.

There were many comments on websites saying to get a 4-wheel drive car, which are more expensive, but after thinking about it, I realized that, when watching videos of the islands, many people just had regular cars. I decided that while the warnings were good alerting travelers to windy roads, steep hills, and damaged roads, that we could save the money and just get a compact car. We’d be fine.

That was all well and good, until I forgot to rent the car until the day or two before our trip. When I checked, prices had only gone up $10 per day, so I shrugged it off.

No biggie.

It started getting interesting when the day came to travel on Saturday, however. Somehow I had forgotten once again to rent the car! Seriously. So, I checked, in anticipation of another possible price increase, but they were still the same. No worries then. Next, before I know it, we’re at Philly International waiting to leave for Fort Lauderdale—our connecting flight. I’m really pushing the limit here.

I check them out again—same price. I’m really feeling like it’s no big deal at this point.

PHL – Philadelphia International | August 2020

We get to Florida with one hour to go before we connect to St. Thomas, and I look one last time. No change. Prices are the same. I’ll have lunch first, then reserve something.

But that hour flew by! It was so interesting with all the people and I just love the atmosphere at airports. So, next time I think of it, I’m in my seat on my way to the Virgin Islands with no car rented.

Two hours and we touch down in paradise!

The airport in St. Thomas was PACKED! There were so many people. After we made it through the covid temperature scanning and actually got inside the airport (you land and disembark outside and walk across the tarmac), we weaved our way through the crowds and made our way to the car rental desks. Budget. Dollar. Avis. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

“There are no cars on the island.”

That was the “official” word. Here we are in St. Thomas and we have no car.
So, I started to call around to the mom-and-pop car rental companies on the island but still no luck… booked or closed. Despite what I mentioned however about renting a cheap car, I really wanted a Jeep, but the cost was more than double the price. With no other option at this point though, it was time to check them out!

I called L&L Jeep rental, whom I’d researched before the trip, and they surprisingly had Jeeps available! Bingo! We got talking, started with the details, and then the question came…

“Wait, where are you staying?” “We’re staying on St. Thomas,” I said. “Oh, I’m sorry. We’re actually on St. John.”

I wasn’t phased because L&L had offices on St. Thomas and St. John, but then I was kindly informed that they don’t share their cars between islands, and they didn’t know if the St. Thomas office had any cars. Turns out they didn’t.

Change of plans.

The view from our balcony

What started out as a business trip to St. Thomas with a day trip to St. John became a trip to St. John with nightly accommodations on St. Thomas.

We called L&L back and asked if we could rent a Jeep on St. John for 2 days and just leave it on St. John overnight. No problem. We could just park it on their lot.

So first night we arrive, we settle in and enjoy the scenery. We booked a room at a resort and we had a great view of the pool, the ocean, and the islands. The room was great and the people were super friendly. The pool looked inviting but we didn’t spend any time there. The landscaping and décor were all very well done.

It was a long day of travel and so an early night.

Time to sleep!

The ferry ride from Red Hook to Cruz Bay | 8:00 a.m.

Day 2

Up at 7 a.m., day two, and it’s Sunday.

Okay, so 7 a.m. is a little early for paradise, but we wanted to make the most of every day. We needed to be out front by 7:45 a.m. to catch a taxi to Red Hook, 5 minutes away, so we could make the 8 a.m. ferry to St. John.

Let me tell you… what a commute! Maybe people who live here hardly notice. Or maybe they do appreciate it and really love it! But starting your day on the water, boating from one island to another is awesome! – even the one time we got a little rain.

After taking in the beauty on the water, we arrive in Cruz Bay on St. John.
I love this place!

Side note – When I was 18 years old, our senior class field trip was a week spent on St. John in the Maho Bay cabins. I fell in love with the place and the dream of moving here took root in my heart. In 2007, my wife and I prayed at length for nearly 8 weeks straight to move here and it’s been on the horizon ever since – at least for me. She was never a huge fan like I was, she was pretty reluctant, not wanting to leave my family—hers being in France, or our friends. I will explain later.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church | St. John

We arrive, and different than our tropical resort on St. Thomas, now we’re in the tropical town of Cruz Bay. It’s amazing! And this was our day off.

Getting there at 8:30 in the morning, we had an hour to walk around before church. What we didn’t realize was that the shops and the roosters don’t start their day at the same time, but the roosters were happy to see us. There were restaurants open for breakfast, but not much else at this time on Sunday.

Around 9:15 a.m., we walked… walked! – so nice to walk to places—we live in the suburbs where you drive to everything—we walked to church at Our Lady of Mount Carmel for 9:30 a.m. Mass. Both of us loved the Mass, the Spirit-filled celebration and the people. They honored all the visitors at the Mass and called us each up to receive a gift! WELCOME is the word to describe how we felt!

Our Jeep rented from L&L Jeep Rentals

After church, we picked up our Jeep and it was time to hit the grocery store so we headed to Starfish Market. The selection was great and the pricing was even greater, I mean, larger, I mean, higher! Yeah, things are expensive here! We knew it ahead of time, but it was interesting to see it in person. Some things weren’t that much more expensive though. I guess it depends on what you like to eat. For sure though, there wasn’t much in the way of chocolate. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but it dawned on me… it’s hot here! Maybe transporting chocolate is just too messy, or expensive. There was some, but if you love chocolate, you’ll probably notice the smaller selection.

From Starfish Market, it was off to explore!

With our catch in car, we headed up North Shore Road towards Cinnamon Bay, driving on the left of course. By the way, driving on the left is a bit strange at first, yet fun, but we found that people are generally easy going on St. John and the no one seemed too impatient with us as we double-checked and triple-checked before making a turn. One thing I will say is that if you are using Google Maps to navigate, they have the automatic settings wrong and it shows you distance in kilometers by default. You have to manually switch it to miles.

One of several overlooks along North Shore Rd | St. John

The other thing, for sure, is that the roads are steep, they wind, and many don’t have a guard rail. It’s not entirely unsafe but don’t get captured by the beauty or your phone while driving. You really have to stay vigilant, but there are designated lookouts on the road to stop and take in the endless views!

When we got to Cinnamon Bay beach, there was still construction, so public bathrooms and services weren’t open. I am guessing they were still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. So, we headed over to Trunk Bay. I had been there before, so I had hoped to snorkel at another beach, but it was Trunk Bay for the day.

Even though it’s not the island’s best snorkeling I gather, Trunk Bay is still fun. It was cheap, parking was easy, the beach is A—mazing. I mean, it’s hard to beat… except that St. John is full of “hard to beat” so choosing might not be easy!

After a nice day at the beach, we headed back and walked around Mongoose Junction. Sounds like a train station but it’s actually this ridiculously gorgeous shopping area built to resemble a colonial-era Danish fort. I mean, everything is made of stone, brick, and stained wood with winding staircases, narrow paths, open courtyards, and tropical plants and trees everywhere. It’s so impressive with all its boutique shops and restaurants. Clearly, don’t miss it when you go.

Banana Palm | St. John

Time for dinner.

We walked around and had a look at some of the different places to eat and settled on Banana Palm. You need to make reservations, but someone had canceled so we were able to slip in. The restaurant is a lower-elevation hillside tiered-deck setting with tables overlooking Cruz Bay. It was sunset and the perfect spot for our wedding anniversary dinner — surf and turf. I’m the surf. She’s the turf.

After that, we walked all the way back to Mongoose Junction to get ice cream, of course. Then it was back to St. Thomas on the ferry under the stars, and back to our beautiful place.

Hitchhiking donkey on North Shore Rd | Coral Bay

Day 3 – Monday

We’re regulars now, hopping over to St. John on the 8 a.m. ferry. Now it was time to get to work.

The first store we entered looked awesome! Seriously. The aesthetic was on point. I was so impressed. After a few seconds, an employee asked if she could help us and we told her why we had come. Quickly though she let us know that their store would be closing next month and that she didn’t know who was replacing them, but that they had 2 other stores on the island, and we should check them out. She gave us a few details, but the info went in one ear and out the other. I’d find out later what she’d meant.

Next it was upstairs to have a look at the shirts for sale at another store. The prices were similar to ours. The brands were recognizable. The designs looked good. Most importantly, the owner was opened to having a look at our designs.

“We own a t-shirt company and we’re here to talk about possibly supplying our shirts.” “Okay, sure,” the owner said. “I just can’t look at them for…” In the moment, I was prepared for, I don’t know, …nothing soon?

“Two weeks.”

“Oh, okay. No problem. I’ll be back in two weeks, actually.” Flights were so cheap, I decided to book a follow-up trip. How cheap? Uh… $25 each way? – Philadelphia to St. Thomas! Sure it’s Spirit and the seats don’t adjust but at $25, the gas, tolls, and parking at the airport cost as much as the plane ticket!

As the day went on, we traveled around to different shops in both Cruz Bay and the east end of St. John in Coral Bay, dodging the deer and chatting with the donkey on the way.

Mongoose Junction | Cruz Bay

Everyone was open!

At store after store, owners and managers were open to speaking with us, hearing our story, and open to having a look at our products. Clearly, God was opening doors for us. Some of them shared their stories with us about how they moved to St. John, their experience, their family life. We also heard what it’s like to grow up there. People were so friendly and really took an interest in us. I later read, and agree, that people on St. John are so ready to help others out. Many people are transplants, coming to paradise to follow a dream, and there’s a spirit of community. People genuinely just want to see you do the same!

After spending the day exploring the island, we again ended up in Mongoose Junction where we found our favorite clothing store – Big Planet. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was awesome! This was our kind of shop, full of surf brands, beachwear, and island life accessories. The display and selection were just the look I love!

Even more perfect though were the people. They were so welcoming and really took an interest in us, listening to why we were there, and they shared their own island stories.

Of all the stores we visited, Big Planet was my favorite and I definitely recommend it to get your Virgin Islands gear.

Sunset | Cruz Bay

Finally, on our way out of Mongoose Junction, my wife said, “Let’s have a look at Made-in-St-John,” which is another clothing store, but I quickly replied, “There’s not gonna be anything there for us. The whole point is that their clothes are made in St. John.” Our clothes are made in Pennsylvania—for now.

Something opened up my heart at that moment though, and all of the sudden I had a sense of adventure about heading there, and it wasn’t wrong.

After a few minutes looking around, a store manager asked if he could help us. We told him what we were up to but explained how our items were naturally not going to be a fit being made in Pennsylvania. Then I noticed he was wearing a sweatshirt from a university not so far from Philadelphia, in the Allentown area, where I first went to college myself.

So, I asked him if that was the school he went to and turns out in fact he was from there! Small, not tiny, but small world.

Tiny world though… we got talking about our company and how we print our clothing digitally, which is pretty rare, and turns out that they do as well, on the same exact equipment. Now we’re instant business friends, and we had a great conversation.

The manager here was actually the guy the woman at the first store that was closing was trying to tell me about, but at the time, it wasn’t clear what she was trying to tell me. In the end though, we ended up at the right place at the right time and started a relationship with a cool guy, with a cool story, who happens to be a manager at the company who also owns Big Planet. So cool.

It was a great trip. St. John turned out just awesome for us.


Day 3 – Tuesday, our last day

The last day of our trip, we decided to spend checking out the shopping district of St. Thomas in the morning before our afternoon flight. That had always been my idea… set up shop where the cruise ships dock and hundreds of thousands of customers come right to your door every year. But that idea changed. All due to the blessing in disguise of forgetting to rent a car. Heaven had a better plan.

We fell in love with St. John. (Me, for the 3rd time)

When we got home, a few days later, I overheard my wife talking to someone, telling them we were going to move to St. John and be part-timers. Really?? I can’t explain how surprised and excited I was to hear that come from her. She didn’t even mention it once to me. All these years, it’s always been something that I wanted, but that she never really wanted to do. I never lost hope.

But this trip changed all that. It certainly wasn’t that the island wasn’t paradise. It is! That was never a question.

It was the people.

She said, “I feel like we were making relationships for life.” It was the people of St. John that made the difference. It was the people of St. John who made paradise feel like home.

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