Hi All! So if you follow me on social media you know that Mr. Stafford and I were soaking up the sun in St. John for the whole month of March. Can I just say this is what retirement is meant to be. We are incredibly blessed to be able to spend so much time in such a beautiful place, but this is the reason why we worked so hard all our lives. It is pure bliss!
We've been going to this beautiful island for over 18 years and every time we arrive we fall in love with it all over again. Each time we visit we end up deciding to extend our stay for the next year just a little bit longer. We always find it so difficult when its time to leave.
I’m sure that many of you know that the island of St. John went through a devastating time in 2017. The island was hit with two large hurricanes, back to back, in September of that year. The first storm, Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, hit on September 7th and pummeled the island leaving residents without electricity, water and fuel. On September 20th, Hurricane Maria landed as a Category 5 storm and destroyed what was left.
Since tourism is their main source of income, it has been a very difficult time for the residents on the island. Some people we know left and never came back. Homes and business were destroyed and their source of income was gone. Their schools were gone. Water was in short supply and what we were told was if you had ice, you were the man. Many of the residents had evacuated to Puerto Rico and we all know what happened there. How they survived all this and kept their heads up throughout everything says so much about the kind of people who live here.
When we arrived this year, we were unsure of what to expect. But here is one of the main reasons we keep coming back to St. John - the people. What they went through and the work that is still needed across the island is unimaginable. With everything that they have dealt with in the last year and a half, you could not meet a kinder, friendlier group of people. To say they make our vacation a great experience is an understatement. They consistently go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcome on this island. Most of these people worked on getting rental housing back up and running before they even started working on their own homes. The facts are that many are still without their own homes.
As you can see from the photos, it is a beautiful place to spend your time. The beaches are incredible, the food is outstanding, and the views are unreal. The quiet and peacefulness is exactly what we love about visiting St. John. It’s the perfect place to be able to get away, relax, and unplug. It’s not called “Love Island" for nothing!
In the mid-1950s Laurance Rockefeller donated his vast land holdings to the United States National Park Service. Due to this donation, 60% of the island is protected from further development. This also includes most of the beaches and coral reefs, which is another reason we love St. John so much. It’s not over-saturated, allowing the natural beauty of the island to remain as it is. The existing nature and ecosystem, which makes the island such a desired place to visit, will not be ruined by continued development. It lets you feel as if you are far away from the hustle and bustle and still having all the comforts of home.
Now, it is a chore to get from where we live in Vermont to basically anywhere, but St. John is quite the adventure. Our travel includes catching two planes, three shuttle rides, and even a water taxi to get to our final destination. Once we reach the actual island of St. John we then have to get our rental car and drive up the winding roads to get to our home.
Needless to say, this makes for a long travel day and that's only if you end up making every connection. Which this year, we did not do. Honestly, it seems like every year we deal with some kind of delay or change in plans. Everyone in our family says I jinx it by stressing too much. Note to self, you have no control over this. So I need to stop stressing about it. I need to try that next year.
This year really was the winner though for our most difficult experience of getting to St. John. To start, we woke up at 2 AM to drive an hour to Burlington to catch our first flight at 6 AM. The plane was delayed because a flight attendant called out sick. Which was okay, that kind of thing happens all the time. No big deal, right? This meant we could not catch our connecting flight in Charlotte, NC, so we had to spend the night, which was fine. We booked a hotel room, had a nice dinner and went to sleep early. The following day we woke up well rested for our flight to St. Thomas. Everything was going great, we boarded our plane and then we were told that due to mechanical problems with the plane everyone had to get off! So we were delayed another six hours while they found a new plane with a new crew. At this point, we were like “come on, really!” Once we landed we had to take a taxi to our water taxi. It was now 10 PM. So off we go in the boat, in the dark and in very rough seas. I was holding on for dear life. Finally, when we arrived our rental car wasn’t there, so we had to hunt down our driver who was so kind and stayed working so late to take care of us. By the time we got to our house, it was close to midnight. What a trip! It took us about 42 hours to get there, but no one said getting to paradise was easy!
Once we arrived Vince and I popped a bottle of champagne took in the warm island breeze and enjoyed that fresh ocean smell. Then we slept for about 10 hours!
Our winters are extremely long and very cold in Vermont. So by the time March rolls around, we are more than ready to leave the frigid cold of the East Coast and head somewhere warm and sunny. St. John is that place for us, and the strenuous travel is all worth it once we get there!
So our days were filled with early mornins at the beach, Trunk Bay being one of our favorite this year. Getting there at 8:30 AM and having that beautiful beach all to ourselves was amazing. Lazy mornings were filled with swimming in that magnificent ocean, reading, walking the beach and just relaxing. If you are able to wake up early that is the best time for the beach. You feel as if you are on your own private island. I know waking up on vacation is not what most people like to do, but that’s why God invented naps, which we did a lot. That sun and relaxing beach smell just puts you right to sleep.
Maho Bay is the beach we normally would go to in previous years. This year when we got our first look, we couldn’t believe the destruction. All of the lush greenery and foliage that were on the beach was completely gone. The beautiful palm trees that hung over the beach were no more. It was heartbreaking. This beach is wonderful for snorkeling with turtles and the water is shallow and calm. It’s also one of the favorite beaches for the locals. Hopefully next year Maho will be looking healthier.
Driving in St. John is, well, different. They drive on the left side of the road and that can be tricky to get use to. Also, all roads are one way in each direction and they can be quite narrow and very hilly. I'm just going to say it, Vince does all the driving!
Having time alone is so important for us. No phones, no TV, and just a few good books that we passed back and forth was all we needed. When we vacation, we're not the type that plans activities each day and just go, go, go. We like to relax, take each day as it comes and just go with the flow. We both like to come home from vacation well rested and ready to get back to the all that needs doing in the real world!
Now for the food. Obviously there is an abundance of fresh fish. This year we went out for lunch/dinner more often than we usually do. We found three restaurants that we fell in love with, each with their own special style. I'll put the links for these restaurants below. This year from what we were told, those living and working on the island were very surprised and incredibly happy with the amount of tourist that arrived. That being the case, I don't think the food markets were ready for the crowd. As soon as food was stacked on the shelves, it was gone just as fast. This made us try more local restaurants and we were so happy that we did. Here are a few of our favorites places to dine.
First, the Greengos Cantina was by far our favorite restaurants. It was great for a late lunch after spending the morning at the beach. It also has outdoor seating and is in a central location with parking, which is hard to come by in St. John. Yes, the food was to die for! So fresh, so good, it was fabulous! The freshest nachos, the tastiest shrimp tacos, and Cadillac Margaritas were our go to. I also highly recommend their MexicanStreet Corn, Mango Chili Shrimp, and their freshly made guacamole & salsa. I’m not exaggerating when I say we ate there almost daily. It was that good. Honestly, I could go for that shrimp taco right about now!
The Extra Virgin Bistro was another spot that we enjoyed several times on this trip. With an Italian menu and their own roof top garden this was a wonderful place to spend a few hours and enjoy some incredible food. The “catch of the day” was often our first choice to order. Their crab cakes and appetizers were also wonderful. I'm so hungry right now!
The Terrace restaurant was another one of our favorites. The location is stunning and outdoor seating gives you some of the best views and sunsets you could ask for. This is a French influenced restaurant and again, fish was in abundance on the menu. Whatever the daily catch was, that's what we ordered.
So where do we stay in St. John? Right now a few of the larger resorts are still closed or just partially open. Caneel Bay is unfortunately still very devastated. The Westin is open but they are still doing construction and maintenance from the storm.
We have always rented a home through a company called “Catered To”. They have a great selection of villas for rent. They have been in this business for a long time, so they know how to make our stay very easy and special! There is nothing too small or too big for them to take care of. Tyler, who owns “Catered To” and his staff are incredible. Their company name is perfect because they really do cater to your every need. They can setup a chef made a meal delivery service. You can request certain meals you want before you arrive and they will bring it right to your house. Meals are freshly made and well prepared just for you. It is nowhere close to takeout. They can also stock your refrigerator with food for your arrival, which came in very handy this year! Since we have used “Catered To” for planning all of our trips to St. John for the past 18 years, it feels like going home and seeing family.
St. John is one of the most amazing places to visit. But even with all this beauty, sunshine, relaxation, and great people we are always homesick toward the end of vacation. That's a good thing though! Paradise is wonderful, but eventually home is where you want to be. We missed our dog Buddy, sleeping in our own bed, and our girls. But mostly, we missed Buddy!
Like Dorothy Gale says "There's no place like home".