Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013 St. Thomas 9 day vacation to the island!

Oct. 29, 2013:

Today we woke up bright and early and ready to head to Miami for our 9:55 am flight to St. Thomas.  We had arrived in southern Florida on the 24th and spent the first few nights at Angie and Josh's (our daughter and son-in-law's).  They were also heading to St. Thomas with us and flying on the same plane.  Unfortunately, our great planning didn't pan out too well---for much of the trip, actually!  They had done a test run to the airport a couple weeks before and said it was about 45 minutes from their place.  So they allotted for that, another half hour to park their car, and another half hour to check in.  Little did we know, Miami closes their flights 1 hours before flight time and it took a little longer then 45 minutes to get there.  So they dropped us off by AA check in and we hustled to check our bags.  That's when we were enlightened about the 60 minute flight "closing".  We missed it by 2 minutes!  So, the first of our regrouping and replanning went into effect.  There was another flight to St. Thomas 8 hours later.   So we got the 4 of us confirmed on it---even getting assigned the exit rows (for a fee, of course).  

I'm sure Ken would have been content to sit in the airport for 8 hours, but Angie, Josh, and I weren't.  So we loaded back into their car and took off to South Beach.  They aren't fans of Miami, but I rather enjoyed the excursion.  We drove around looking at the Art Deco buildings and newer sculptures.





 We even managed to find a parking spot on the road closest to the beach and had breakfast/lunch at an Irish pub there--Finnegan's Way.
 We paid for about 1 1/2 hours of parking (think it was $3, maybe $4), so after eating, Angie, Josh and I walked over to the beach.  First we had to cross the green space.
The walkway from the green space to the large Miami Beach.
Would have loved to spend more time at the beautiful beach, but I was dressed for a chilly plane, not for chilling on a beach!  Here's my beautiful daughter and fantastic son-in-law.

Lovely way to spend a late October afternoon!
Back to riding around Miami a bit.  Seeing a little of how the rich and famous live!
 Bridge to one of the many islands.
After killing about 5 hours, we headed back to the airport.  I got a kick out of the name of the street the airport is on:
This time we made it back to the airport in plenty of time.  I even enjoyed wandering around a bit and checking out the fishy sculptures hanging throughout the concourse we were in.  Those who know me know I'm a fanatic about snorkeling and photography.  So these decorations were right up my alley!

 black tipped reef sharks
 flying gurnards---I've only ever seen these guys around Hawaii.
 parrot fish
 One of the walls with fishy art.
Our 5:40 flight was on time and we were finally on our way to St. Thomas! We had expected to be making our way to the East side by daylight and snorkeling in the afternoon, but we saw the sun set from our plane window. 
It was about 8:30pm St. Thomas time (and EST) when we landed.  I had read the car rental places had long lines so I headed straight there and left the others to get the luggage.  Turned out the luggage and car rental were right next to each other.  Here we had the next of our aggravating plan changers!  I had read lots of bad things about Budget Rental Cars on St. Thomas, but we had used them from the cruise ship at an off airport site twice with no problems so we went ahead and booked with them, again.  BIG MISTAKE!!!!  I had even passed up cheaper rentals to go with tried and true Budget!  After waiting our turn--which seemed quite long for only 2 people being ahead of me---we were assigned a 4 door Yaris.  I had reserved a Standard car so was expecting a real car with 4 doors and a trunk!  I was not too happy when we got to the car lot and saw this tiny toy hatchback car!!!  Upon checking the website later, the Yaris is listed as an economy car even though in St. Thomas they claim it's an intermediate. Needless to say, we had no choice but to "upgrade" for $13 a day to a Jeep Wrangler (the only other car they had left, so they said).  They also insisted on another $7.50 /day charge for Ken to drive since the reservations are in my name!  Everywhere else I've booked at Budget the spouse got to drive for free.   I will be contacting Budget headquarters!  (I did write a letter to Corporate Budget and received a response in about 2 weeks.  I'm happy to say they forwarded my letter to the manager at the franchise Budget there at STT airport and he responded by saying he was able to see that I was assigned a Yaris at first and should not have been charged an upgrade fee if nothing equivalent to a Lancer was available.  He refunded that charge to my credit card.  He also said the $7.50/day extra driver fee is stated on the reservation and wouldn't do anything about that.  Corporate Budget also sent me a $25 voucher for use on a corporate rental as a good will jesture.  So all in all, I'm pretty happy with the outcome.  Wish I had reserved it in my husband's name instead of mine, but that was my fault.)  Good thing is it was plenty big for the 4 of us and our luggage.  Bad thing---It was BIG and the door on my side had the hinge broken so it would swing freely all the way open.  Being 5'4", I had to literally climb into it each time I got in.  Sure glad my knee wasn't acting up then!  But finally, we were on our way----but where?!  I had found that our Garmin included the USVI, but hadn't set the address for the Elysian before leaving home.  When I tried to set it from our newly acquired Jeep rental, it came up with no such address, but a similar address was good so I set it to take us there.  Having been to the island a few other times (for the day, and Angie and Josh to Elysian for 5 nights before), we knew it was taking us the wrong direction.  Some screaming and cursing ensued.  To top it off I had caught a pretty bad cold a couple days before and I wasn't feeling all that great.  Finally Josh and Angie got out their phones and used the GPS on them to direct us to the resort.   (Later I noticed the Elysian listed in the hotels part of "places of interest" on my Garmin---even had the correct address that wouldn't come up when I typed it in) I hadn't called the resort about a late check-in, because my confirmation sheet said they were open until 11 pm---it was only 9:10.  Of course, they closed at 9!  Strike 3!!!  We had passed a guard building when we drove in, so back to it we went.  The lady there did indeed have our room assignments.  I had requested to be near the pool and/or close by the kids, but as the day was going, we were put in a room farthest from the pool, a different level and several buildings apart from the kids, and neither of us even had much of an ocean view.  By now, that didn't even phase me----we were at least here!!!

Oct. 30, 2013:

The Elysian Resort:
This is a Wyndham managed resort with Wyndham owning some of the units and Worldmark also having a few.  There's also several privately owned units that are rented out or occupied by residents.  It's on the east side of the island on Cowpet Bay and about 2 miles from Red Hook.  All of the Wyndham units are studios---either double studio (with 2 double beds and a kitchenette); king studio (like the double only with a king bed); studio parlor (which we got with the Queen Murphy bed and full kitchen); and the studio parlor loft (like ours only with a lofted bedroom and almost impossible to reserve).  I had thought about reserving the parlor and a king bedroom for Ken and me and having them adjoining, but then we would have had double the energy fee of $22/day and they probably would have been at opposite ends of the resort with the way things were going.  As it turned out, I really liked the studio parlor.  It was quite large, nicely renovated, the murphy bed was very comfortable and folded up and down easily, there were place settings for 4, even had a dishwasher, the patio had a table with 2 chairs and a lounge chair on it (good for drying our wet suits every day since we didn't have a washer and drier).   Would have been nice to have a higher unit with a better view, but at least we got to stay in the same rooms all 7 and 9 nights (2 reservations for the kids and 3 for us with one of ours being a Worldmark reservation, the other 2 being Wyndham).  I had tried the Wyndham VIP trick of  cancelling and rebooking our reservation within the 60 day mark to save half the points, but the cancelled reservations didn't come right back up.  I had a Worldmark bonus time reservation as a back up in case Wyndham didn't offer those days again.  Fortunately I was able to pick up 6 of our 9 nights at a later time for half the regular Wyndham points and kept the Worldmark reservation for the other 3 nights.  I didn't play that game with Angie and Josh's reservations.  I would say the studios were worth the full point price anyway now that we've stayed there. 

Murphy bed behind couch.  Couch was surprisingly comfortable for sitting on, too.  Kitchen to the left behind me, hallway to door and bathroom behind me to the right.
The small but adequate bathroom area---separate toilet and shower area to left.  No tub.  Closet with safe to immediate left although safe was locked and they couldn't open it.
 Nicely equipped kitchen with full sized appliances, granite counter tops, glass tiled back splashed. 
 From sliding door to patio towards kitchen .
 from kitchen area with Murphy bed folded down.  Still lots of room to get around.
 Ken cooking breakfast.  Murphy bed folded up (rather sloppily!).   Good view of front door; bathroom to the right behind kitchen.
View from our room (W149)
View from Angie and Josh's room (L 107)  Tennis court below them, main office to the left with the green awning.
Ken and I went to the main office in the morning and officially check-in.  Turned out we weren't charged the energy fee for either room for the night of the 29th.  We also asked about free internet for VIP and she actually gave us the password!   I don't know if that's a  Wyndham VIP privilege, but it paid to ask!  (Internet service wasn't the greatest, but it kept us connected to email and facebook.)  We also verified we wouldn't have to move 3 times and got beach towels for us and the kids.  Things were looking up! 

Next thing on the agenda was to find the grocery store.  The little one in Red Hook that the kids remembered had closed.  So we went to one close to Red Hook---Food Center.  I found things to be even more expensive here then on Hawaii.  We did bring some stuff with us from home---like pancake mix and some snacks, but still spent a fortune on sodas, cereals, milk, eggs, bacon, etc.  We ate most of our breakfasts in our rooms.  Then ate lunch and dinner out.
Then it was time to hit the water!  Angie and Josh told us how great the snorkeling was right there at Cowpet and they are right!   The resort even has a bunch of "toys" for rent, but we didn't rent any.
 It was a beautiful calm day for snorkeling Cowpet Bay! 
 This snapper was one of the first fishies to greet us.
 Then some sort of wrasse,
 around the point we came upon some great coral.
 a parrotfish
Christmas tree worms growing on some coral
 spiny urchin
 a blue head wrasse
 a "feather duster" worm
 another type of snapper
 a yellow stripe snapper in a graveyard of shells.
 a damselfish with lavender coloring instead of blue
 colorful corals
 general view around the point
 blue surgeonfish or tang?
 there is a school of these guys who like to follow snorkelers. (I'm told these are Palometa fish, a relative of the Pompano fish in Florida)
 another type of coral--elkhorn
 a school of squid
 close up of squid
 something scared them and they sprayed "ink" and took off.
 tiny fish over coral
 coming back around the point and looking towards the Elysian resort. 
At this point, my Canon D20 point and shoot underwater camera was acting very strangely!  It kept zooming on it's own.  By the time I got out and checked the battery compartment, it was too late.  I'd drowned another underwater camera.  I don't open them at the beach, I clean them after snorkeling, but I guess when you spend 3 and 4 hours at a time in the water and days at a time, it takes a toll.   But I wasn't about to be without an underwater camera for the rest of my trip!  On to research who sells underwater cameras in St. Thomas!  We tried Office Max and K-mart---no success there.  Decided to hit the internet and came up with Royal Caribbean and Boolchards so we headed into Charlotte Amelia only to find them closed already.  But since we were there, we went to Shipwreck Bar for a brew and dinner.  It was quite good and the wait staff was very nice---albeit Red Socks fans!
This was also the night of the 6th game of the World Series.  Our STL Cardinals were in it playing the Boston Red Socks (again) so we wanted to make sure we were around our rooms to watch it.  So after dinner, we made our way back to the "kids" room and shared a few more drinks while attempting to watch the Cardinals game.  We were down 2-3 in games won, so needed this win.  But after the Red Sox scored about 7 runs to our none, we gave up and headed to the pool and Jacuzzi---it was too painful to watch any more!  Our boys lost, but they put up a much better showing this year then last time we played them in the World Series!  It was made better by being in the warm pool and having a yummy Mango Cruzan and pinacolada juice drink!

More trials and tribulations, but we're going to have a great time, damn it!!!

October 31, Halloween:

This morning I started out calling Boolchards and Royal Caribbean to ask questions about what underwater cameras they had.  I had expected to be going to Boolchards, but that salesman was very abrupt.  The gal I talked to from Royal Caribbean was very helpful and not in a rush, so we headed there soon after breakfast. 

It was interesting driving around on St. Thomas.  Driving on the left didn't seem to be too big a deal this time.  Our driver did a very good job.  But the narrow roads and hills were sometimes a challenge.  I doubt we would have made it far in the Yaris had we all fit into it!  Here are a few views as we headed into town:

 one of the open air buses
 entering Charlotte Amelie
harbor in Charlotte Amelie
 main street shopping area.
   Ken dropped Angie and me off by the Royal Caribbean store and we went in to find the gal I talked to on the phone.  Not only was she friendly and helpful, she was very knowledgeable about all the different cameras including my now defunct Canon D20.  After looking at several styles, I settled on one almost like Angie's.  Both are Olympus Tough Stylus, mine being the Stylus TG-830.  It came with a camera bag and 16G card for $240 .  I even asked if they would throw in an extra battery and to my surprise, her manager said yes.  Plus it was $100 cheaper then my Canon D20 a couple years ago.  Hopefully it'll last longer then the Canons.
 old historic building
 the highway fronting the harbor
 boat with character in Charlotte Amelie.
 The sky tram from Havensight Harbor.
heading back towards Red Hook.
 main drag of Red Hook.
 Our resort is only about 2 or 3 miles from Red Hook and less then a mile from the Ritz.  So we drove down to the Ritz to check out the beach there.  We didn't see anything that looked great for snorkeling, so we continued on.
Since we wanted to check out the beach by the other Wyndham (Blue Beard's Beach Resort), we decided to head there.  The road off of highway 30 leading to the resort was in bad need of some work.  This was a good section of the road.  And, of course, it's been raining off and on for the last couple of days.
We were intrigued by this in the parking lot of Bluebeards Beach resort?!
We found the grounds to be pretty nice.
 The beach at Blue Beard's Beach Resort is really nice, too.
Snorkeling was even interesting.   And my new camera works great!



 Angie researched this fish's symbiotic commensalism partner and found it doesn't harm the fish, just attaches itself near the fish's mouth to eat scraps of food the fish misses. 
 We even saw a couple sand dollars here.
some more of the Blue Beard's beach residents
 more snappers
 topography
 another interesting little blue fish I hadn't seen before---I think it's a juvenile Queen Angelfish.
 Nearby was another beach we had read about and wanted to try, so after snorkeling Blue Beards for a couple hours, we headed there---to Bolongo Bay. 
 There was a restaurant on the beach that we thought about trying, but didn't get around to--Iggie's. 
 We ended up swimming out to the point at the far left (center right of the picture).
The water was pretty murky and grassy, but shallow for quite a distance. 
 Another look at the point as we were heading there.
 One of the many conchs we saw along the way
 A few of the tiny fish we saw along the way.
 Near the point, Josh yelled, "nurse shark"!   By the time I got there, it was gone.  Who would have thought that one day someone would yell shark and I would take off swimming towards it!?
 Another of the locals at Bolongo---lizard fish.
 And another
 This is also the only place we saw any turtles.  I believe this is a Hawksbill turtle.  The water was pretty murky.
 A panorama of the bay with my new camera.  It makes taking pans easy!
 One final look at Bolongo.

By now it was time to head back to the condos and clean up for dinner.  We headed over to Duffy's Love Shack.  It's an interesting little bar restaurant in the parking lot of a little strip mall in REd Hook.  They even serve drinks in souvenir corny, but cute, made in China ceramic mugs.  Angie and I enjoyed them, as well as dinner and watching all the festivities of Halloween.  The waiters were dressed in costumes and some of the clientele were, too.  Plus there was music and lots of drunken people to entertain us.  A fun Halloween!

Nov. 1, 2013:

The surf was coming in pretty good again at the Elysian.  It rained all night, too, and really stirred up the sand.  We decided to head north again.  I know Coki gets high rankings for snorkeling.  I don't think it's that exceptional, compared to Cowpet, but it is a different experience, so we went there first.  It is quite an operation with waiters on the beach.  Sort of reminds me of being on a cruise ship with all the waiters wandering around the beach.  After being walked into the bay area by "our" server, we headed into the water.  First we went to the left and around the little point.
Immediately upon entering the water I saw these little guys in about a foot of water. (juvenile
Palometas?)
 As with everywhere around the island, we saw a lot of these urchins. 
 A few of the colorful fish around the point.
 and another "feather duster" worm.
 Have no idea what this gelatinous pulsating mass is---I assume it is a type of jelly fish.  Saw a few of them here at Coki. 
 A knife fish?  These guys seem to like to hang around the sandy areas.
Angie and Josh soon tired of the sparce terrain to the left and headed over the sand towards Coral World.  Along the way they pointed out these interestingly marked crabs. 
Also passed schools of fish along the sandy bottom.
 By the rocks at the other end of the beach are a lots of fish that are use to being fed.  I presume this is why they claim this is a great place to snorkel.  There are a lot of fish here, but that's because they want to be fed.
 Around the rocky edge, I came across this large colorful lizard fish. 
 As the terrain got more interesting, the buoys marking off Coral World restricted our advances.
 A little of the coral on our side.
 one of the colorful parrot fish here.
 another colorful tiny fish
 a spotted puffer?
a file fish, I think.
blue surgeonfish (tang) or "happy face" fish, as Ken likes to call them.
The snorkel area is rather small.  So as the cruise passengers started to arrive and it got more crowded, we decided it was time to head off.  Another final look towards Coral World from our stuff.
We knew Sapphire might be crowded, too, but also knew that the reef there is quite a ways out.  Not many people seem to know where the reef is or be willing to swim that far out.  So we stopped at Sapphire on our way back.  The reef is near the point at the far right of the coast line (middle left in this picture).  There are fish and dead coral closer to shore, but it gets a lot better out by the point.
Some of the critters and terrain out there:
another type of worm?

Elkhorn coral
another juvenile queen angelfish
Lots of schools of snappers by the large Elkhorn coral.
Large porcupine puffer.
more corals



large spotlight parrotfish
4 eyed butterflyfish
damselfish
the blue tang surgeonfish again
All the snorkeling made us hungry, so we headed to the casual dining area at our resort---Sangria's.  It was very nice with great food and great views!
 View from our table at Sangria's.
The Elysian waters looked too inviting to pass up.  So after lunch, we headed back into the water.  
Even though we like to swim out around the point and far to the left, there are tons of fish in inches of water just feet from the shore.  Like these guys:
lane snapper
 a high hat
 another snapper?
2 different snappers
 another juvenile beaugregory damselfish
 terrain to the left by the shore with tons of baby fish.
 long spine squirrel fish---there are bunch of these guys by the desalinization pipes near the shore.
Josh even discovered the home of this octopus.  It had a bunch of empty conch shells around it's den.  Angie and I visited him every day.
angelfish
 sawcheek Cardinal fish
 flounder
 a wrasse--we see lots of bigger wrasse in Hawaii.
 blue headed wrasse playing merry go round.
After snorkeling, we hit the pool to relax awhile.  Love the view from the pool area!

While I was at it, I took a few pictures of the local landscaping flowers:



Time to get cleaned up and head off to REd Hook for dinner again---Pizza this time on the marina side of the road.  Great views and great pizza.  

Nov. 2, 2013--Sat:

We had hoped to go to St. John's today, too, but again put it off because of the weather.  We've seen very little sun the last 3 days and better weather keeps getting put off another day or 2.  So, we stuck around our side of the island again. 

We had read that Secret Harbor (about a mile down the road from us) was suppose to be really good for snorkeling, too, so we decided to find it and give it a try.  Looked like it had potential!
 We decided to head to the right where the rocks were.
 We even had a brief bit of blue skies.
Although this doesn't show it, the water was really churned up and pretty rough.
 With such poor visibility underwater, we decided to get out.
 Making our way back.
 For some reason we thought Blue Beard's might be better, so we headed there.  That was a mistake.  It was really churning there.  So I decided it was a good time to take a picture of our "intermediate" bait and switch rental car.
Also decided our USVI license plate was worthy of a picture.  They have a cool design.
Back to the Elysian we went.   More rain, more clouds.
 Still smiling, though.
 Angie and I took off to find our octopus buddy and annoy him some more.
 Also hung around the rocky area and said hi to the resident squirrel fish.
 and Cardinal fish
 We had another bite to eat at the casual Sangria's restaurant.  Again it was very good, although service was a bit grumpy today.  Upon leaving the restaurant I got a kick out of the rain line on the palm trees.  I guess it should have been easy to figure out why the surf was coming in hard from the east!
 Another picture of our beach as we headed to the pool.   I tried to get as much pool time in as I could.  It was especially nice when they didn't have the hot tub at 1,000,000 degrees!
I don't remember what we did Sat. night.  Probably ate at Molly Malone's in Red Hook that night.  Molly Malone's was rather disappointing.  My corned beef and cabbage was good, but it was advertised to come with scones.  After we had eaten, we asked about the scones and were told they ran out.   After the fact, the waitress offered us bread, but we were done eating then and I was really looking forward to the scone for dessert.   We probably had the worst service here of any place we went to---it was also the most expensive place.

Nov. 3, 2013--Sunday:

Again the forecast was saying more rain and a 10 percent chance of a tropical storm developing.  At this point, we decided to throw good weather to the wind and head to St. John anyway.  Turned out to be an excellent decision!  We soon discovered the west and north facing shores were calm as a pool there!   The water was nice and clear, too.  We fell in love with St. John!!  I've decided when I win the lottery, I want to move there instead of Kauai now---or maybe split time between the 2!  3/4th of the island is National Parks and very picturesque.  Even the little town of Cruz Bay is covered with trees and pretty buildings. 

 Had to stop at the overlook of Cruz Bay on our way north out of town.
Soon we were into the National Park.
It was still raining, so I was really surprised when we pulled over at the Trunk Bay overlook and saw the beautiful greens and blues of the water there.

The crowded Trunk Bay beach
We decided to head past Trunk Bay to Cinnamon Bay and work our way back.  But at Cinnamon Bay, we really didn't see any stand out snorkel areas, so we took a few pictures and doubled back.

 Even passed what looked like some old ruins.  Next time maybe we'll investigate them some.
I had been to Trunk Bay years ago on a Disney cruise with my Dad: http://travelingwithsue.blogspot.com/2009/05/2005-disney-cruise-lets-try-again.html .  That was a complementary cruise from Disney because he almost drowning at Castaway Cay on our previous cruise.  So when we went to Trunk Bay that trip, I only snorkeled a short distance from shore and made him sit on the shore.  I wasn't impressed with the snorkeling then.  But today we snorkeled all around the island just off shore and all the way to the rocks at the far right of the beach.  I can now see why everyone brags about snorkeling here!

The rain even held off---mostly.  Did get sprinkles now and then, but we were snorkeling so it didn't matter.  Plus the weather was so suspect, that not a lot of other people showed up.  Turned out to be a perfect day!
Almost immediately we were welcomed by these guys.
 I had seen some of the underwater snorkel trail last time, but happened to miss a lot of them.  Here are a few of it's markers.

 This guy's size is deceiving, he was quite large.

 Some of the beautiful soft corals around Trunk Bay.
 Another very large fish---I believe it's a snapper.  Note the average sized blue surgeonfish below the coral.
Another small damselfish
 some of the terrain around the island
 terrain and a butterfly fish
 more terrain
Rounding the far side of the island.
Even looked above the water now and then.
another spotted pufferfish
 Josh and his squid buddies.
 surgeonfish
 Looks like a butterfly fish, but I haven't seen one like this before.
 another type of worm?
 another new butterfly fish
 Ken noticed an area that was covered with these tiny shells.  This is just a small sampling of that area.
At this point, Angie's memory card was full so she headed back to shore to replace it.  Then we headed to the far right rocky shelf.
More colorful Christmas tree worms.
 a couple more lizard fish.
 Even a lobster.
 A flounder
 Large porcupine puffer
 This picture doesn't begin to show the size of this Caribbean grouper!  This guy was even bigger than the snapper I saw earlier.
Even spotted this translucent fish.
 terrain to the far right
 back to the beach---one final look.  Looks like some cruise passengers have finally arrived.
 By now we were hungry, so we hit up the snack bar there.  After seeing all those fish, I was ready to eat some!
 Some donkeys even decided to come and enjoy the beach.
We still had a couple hours before our ferry and we were anxious to check out another beach.  So we went to the next one closer to town--Hawksnest Bay.  This turned out to be a real gem!!  No showers, lockers, or snack bar like at Trunk, but it was free and parking was about 10 feet from the beach.  We were also treated to an extremely calm surf and clear warm water. 

 so calm and clear!
 One of the things I liked about this place was the size of the fish and variety of ones I haven't seen before.  Here is the largest triggerfish I've ever seen.
 Not too far out is a forest of these orange Elkhorn corals.
There is also lots of fan coral.
 And the schools of surgeonfish like we see so many other places.
 Another treat was to see this huge Angel fish. 
 This Queen Angelfish was also huge!
Of course, my battery gave out then, just as this large school of different fish came by!  But it was time to go anyway, so off we went.  But we did have time to stop at a market and get some refreshments for the car ferry.  We had paid the $50 RT in advance, so had to wait for the same ferry.  (Note, the internet said RT was $40 on the weekend, but they said it's been raised to $50 now)  It wasn't a long wait, though.  They were punctual. 
 Nothing like a little Mango beer to help the time pass!
on the ferry.
 views from the ferry ride were interesting, too.
 goats on St. John
 looking towards St. Thomas from the car ferry
 red cliffs of St. Thomas.
 Back at the Elysian and dinner at Sangria's.  Love the view from the open air restaurant---even at night.
 pina coloda time!
The end to a perfect day!  Would loved to have gone back to St. John.  Too bad Ken wasn't as thrilled with it as I was!  Anything with a time schedule to it (like the ferry) makes him nervous.

Nov. 4, Monday:

Today we decided to head up the mountain to the overviews of Megan's Bay and up to Mountain Top.  We had off and on rain again, but it was a nice ride. 
Here's the view of Megan's Bay from Drake's Seat.

 Sir Francis Drake was supposed to have kept watch over his fleet and looked for enemy ships from this vantage point.
 Then we continued up the mountain to Mountain Top.
 This is a great place to go for souvenirs!  Huge selection and reasonable prices.  They advertise their great banana daiquiris, but we weren't in the mood for that.
After waiting out another rain squall, I was able to get another picture of Megan's Bay from the deck off Mountain Top. 
We had heard there was no snorkeling at Megan's, but it's rated so high for beautiful beaches that we wanted to check it out anyway.  There is a $4/person fee to enter the park, but there is plenty of room here and parking is close to the beach.  Since we were in a car, we were directed to the far left of the bay.  Cruise ship passengers are dropped off at the right side of the bay.
 Looked like we were going to get rained on again, but it didn't happen.
 The water was calm and inviting.
 Ken and I swam to the far left to check out the rocky area for an fish.  Saw this interesting bird along our way.
 Much to my surprise, we did see lots of fish at the far left side.  The whole rocky coastline there was covered with schools of little fish.
 There was even areas of soft coral with other small fish.
 I was fascinated with all the darting fish. 
 There had to be billions of them!



After an hour or so at Megan's, we decided to head out again.  On our way out of the park, we spotted a mongoose.
 Guess I should include a picture of one of the many iguanas we saw, too.
 We had read that Smith's Bay (Lindquist) was a great beach, too, so we decided to check it out.  There's an entrance fee here of $2/person, but the person collecting the fee wasn't there, so we drove on in.
 Snorkeling was a bit challenging.  Ken and I did finally find some small fish to the far right.
 There's a bit of a rock ledge here with some fish.
 Angie and Josh swam out past the buoys and waved me over there.  Turns out there's a pretty nice reef out there and to the far left of the beach past the bouys.  

 On my way back in, this spotted bat ray swam past me.
We spent another hour or 2 here before deciding it was time to go back to the resort and clean up and go to dinner.  Angie was on a mission to get another mug from Duffy's, so we went there again.  Dinner and drinks were great again.  Then it was back to the resort and time for Angie and Josh to pack up. 

Nov. 5, 2013--Tuesday:

Today was the day the "kids" flew home.  They had a morning flight, so we were up and at it by 8am.  It happened to be one of the prettiest days we'd had so far.  The sun was shining brightly.  But even so, they said they had quite a bumpy flight back to Miami.
Finally got to see Charlotte Amalie with blue skies
 and blue water.
 I imagine these are some of the boats out of Charlotte Amelie that take cruisers on pirate excursions.
 I meant to take a better picture of gas prices, but never did.   Gas was $1.90/gallon more here than back home in St. Louis!  Another disadvantage to having the big Jeep Wrangler Sport as opposed to the intermediate car I had reserved. 
 We found the highways are not marked well, so it was nice seeing the starfish signs when we were going to one of those areas. 
After dropping Angie and Josh off at the airport, we headed back to the Elysian to hit the water and enjoy some snorkeling with sunshine. 
Also loved that we always had free beach chairs here.
 looking towards the left bank that we would follow around to a pretty nice reef on the other side.
 some of our fishie friends
 This is around the point and continuing left.
 Still going left.  Would love to have that house!
 Another file fish
 a yellow wrasse
 We usually turn around before we get to the sandy area by the house above, but this time we went all the way to the sand.  Right before the sandy area we found another lively reef with some more fish I've not seen anywhere else on the island.  I saw some of these guys in St. Lucia last year, but nowhere else.
 This reef was a bit worn, but had lots of places for fish to hide.
 Hadn't seen one of these guys before.
 And there were a few of them.
 At one point I looked to my right and this huge barracuda was about 5 feet from me.  He had to have been at least 3 or 4' long. 
 He slowly swam off over the sandy area.  There he goes.
 These needle fish are hard to get a good picture of, but I finally got one.  They hang out at the surface of the water and if you don't look up, you never see them.  I tried to get a good picture of their cousins (Bally-whos, or something like that), but wasn't successful.  They have round yellow tails.
 Here's Ken playing with an anchor.  I think the anchor won.
 Here's a smaller barracuda (2' maybe?) that likes to hang out at the shallows of the Elysian beach.
After a couple hours, we headed back to our room to grab some stuff for a sleep over at the Wyndham Bluebeard's Beach Resort.  I wanted to see how those rooms are, so I booked us a night there.  It seems a lot more available then the Elysian so we have more opportunity to use our VIP discount here.  Noone was willing to commit to staying there without seeing it first, though.  We still had our room at the Elysian, too, so didn't have to hassle with packing up and checking out.

Bluebeard's Beach Resort:

View of the beach from the check in building.
Nice grounds!  They even have a little store on property and this large chess board.
 View of the condos from the beach side.
 Although the "crab" town, or whatever they called the muddy area seen partly here at the bottom left seems to be a mosquito nursery. 
 Compared to a lot of Wyndham pools I've been to, this one is very nice.  Even like the pool bar.  But compared to the Elysian pool, this one pales in comparison.  It also doesn't have a hot tub.
Inside our studio unit:
It is a good size for a studio.  The bed was comfortable.
 The front door was to the left; bathroom to the right.  Didn't like that there were steps from the kitchen/bathroom area up to the rest of the unit.
 Note the steps again.  Could see me falling down them in the middle of the night.
 king bed.  small dining table for 2 under the tv in the livingroom. 
 I liked how the ottoman's lid flipped to make an end table.
 small but adequate kitchenette.
 nice size bathroom, but still no tub.
 from patio door towards front door.  I believe the couch is also a fold out.
View from our patio in building E.
All in all, I liked the resort.  Probably not as much as the Elysian.  But snorkeling is good here, too (when the weather cooperates).  If we couldn't stay at the Elysian, I wouldn't hesitate staying here.
We did head out to snorkel.  It was still somewhat murky, but better then a few days ago. 
blue tang
smooth trunkfish
 Triton.
 This huge fish swam by as I was looking at the shell.  Some sort of jack?  Almost missed him!  Made the snapper and grouper on St. John seem small!  Would have liked to have gotten a better picture of it, but it swam too fast for me to chase down.
 Back to checking out the shell critter.
 a graveyard of sea biscuits.
more squid buddies
 There were actually 4 high hats here.  This is the only picture I got with more then just the bigger one.
 Another stingray in the sand.  Note the barb on the top of the tail, that's what you don't want to be stuck with!
As the sun was dipping low, we made our way out of the water.
Looked like we were going to have a great sunset, but it sort of fizzled out.  In fact, we didn't have a great sunset any of the 9 nights we were there!
 Applied Photoshop camera filter for some color.
 It is a good place to watch cruise ships go by!  We didn't have problems with sand fleas at sunset, but the mosquitos sure were bad!  Even when we went to the pool after taking pictures the mosquitos ate us alive here.  Didn't have that problem anywhere else on the island.  I think it's because of the "crab habitat" muddy area between the condos and the beach.
We decided to go for fast food that night.  Note to self---don't go to McDonald's on St. Thomas!!!  Their service was about as good as Molly Malone's and again my dessert was foiled!  They were out of ice cream! 

Nov. 6, 2013--Wed.:

Time to check out of Bluebeards and head back to the East side.  It was our last full day on the island.  Depression was beginning to sink in just thinking about that!  Took a couple last pictures of Bluebeard's Beach.
 Another view of Bluebeard's Beach from the check in/out building.  The far right side of the beach (more good snorkeling) with the Marriott behind the next bay. 
 The road to the resort is a mess, but they were actually working on it when we were leaving.
 some of the pretty flowers around the area.

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to hit up Sapphire beach and Smith's again.  Hindsight, it probably would have been better to snorkel at Bluebeard's and Cowpet (by the Elysian) again---the winds and surf had shifted.  It was a bit rough at Sapphire and somewhat murky.  But we swam all the way out to the reef where it was clearer.
 some of the healthy coral out by the point
 not a good picture of this guy, but he left an impression.  He kept darting out at me as if to chase me away.  I also found his coloring unusual.  Looks like the fish that are usually yellow, black and white, but he had a definite blue tint to him.  I've been told this is a male Sergeant Major and he's guarding "his" eggs.  What a family man!
 Also saw this blue trumpet fish out there.  They're usually brownish and/or yellow.
 Looking back towards shore from the reef area---note the splashing of the waves on the rocks.
 topography at the reef
 more of the healthy reef
 and some more.
 Our porcupine puffer friend peaking out to say hello.
 lots of Elkhorn coral with schools or fish hanging out at them.
more reef topography.
 a normal colored trumpet fish, not sure why he's lying on the ground like that!
 schools of blue stripe snapper
 shallow reef
 school of surgeonfish
The sky, clouds and water were looking especially pretty when we got out.
 Looking out from Sapphire beach towards the many islands off shore there. 
 zoomed in view of the point by the snorkeling area.
 We thought the closest island was named Shark island, but apparently that's just a name Angie made up.
 From there, we decided to pick up a sandwich from the food truck up the street from Sapphire and had a pic nic at Smith's Beach.  We got pulled pork sandwiches and it was very good.   From our pic nic table at Smith's, we watched a couple snorkelers.  The lifeguards weren't too happy with them going past the buoys.   I don't remember the lifeguards caring the other day when we were there. 
 to the far left past the buoys is another nice reef which I had hoped to check out more thoroughly today, but the sand was really churned up so we just swam a bit inside the buoys, then left.
 You can actually see the parking area in this picture.  It was great being that close to the beach.  
We went back to our resort from here and started packing.  Then shared a pizza and salad from Sangria's---both were very good.  That's also when we noticed how clear and calm the waters were there at the Elysian.  I guess the direction of the surf had changed and we didn't realize it before we went to Sapphire and Smith's.

Nov. 7, 2013--Thursday:

Had to be out of the room by 10 am.  I was dying to snorkel Cowpet again, but with no drier, I didn't.   We did have breakfast at Sangria's overlooking the bay.  What a view to have with breakfast!
 Angie and I had talked about snorkeling the right side of Cowpet, but we never made it there.  So after breakfast I walked over there and checked it out.  Looked like some interesting snorkeling.
 Then I walked back.  This shows another reason why we love this beach---lots of shade, chairs, and hardly anybody there!
 One final photo of Cowpet Bay at the Elysian. 
Our flight wasn't until 2:45, so we had plenty of time to get to the airport.  We stopped at Secret Harbor again just to see it when the surf wasn't up.  The day we tried to snorkel here, it was pretty rough.  Looked pretty great today.
 The water sure doesn't take long to clear up when the surf is down.
 We had tried snorkeling on the far right side.  Too bad that day wasn't like this one!
 Then we headed on towards the airport.  This is us on our way!
 View of the runway from the gas station.
 Right next to the airport is Lindbergh Bay.  We had gone here on our one cruise when we followed Hurricane Tomas and all the other beaches were actually closed.  We were determined to go to the beach that day and this one was close to Crown Cruise Port and open.  Otherwise we probably never would have thought to check it out.  It looked even prettier today.
 There were plenty of people enjoying it today. 
 Then it was on to the airport and to return the car.  That was interesting---Ken dropped me off with the luggage, then drove around trying to find somewhere to drop the car off.  Finally someone got in the car with him and rode back to where I was.  He called someone (Budget, I hope), and closed out the rental.  Didn't get a receipt for it, though.  They certainly do car rentals strangely on St. Thomas!!!

Once in the airport I was surprised that we had to go through customs!  Being a US territory, I didn't expect that.  Good thing we had our passports with us since I had hoped to go to Virgin Gorda.  I asked if we could just use our driver's license and was told that and proof of citizenship would suffice.  Wonder what happens if you just have a driver's license and no proof of citizenship?  Is that how the lady in the McDonald's parking lot became homeless?!

Soon we were on our way.  We had a nice view of Crown Harbor from the plane.  Lindbergh bay is the bay cut off this picture to the right.
Loved the ever changing cloud formations during our 2.5 hour flight back to Miami.  Even got treated to a few fleeting rainbows.


 Even saw some islands along the way.

 I assume these were part of the Bahamas.
In Miami we had another 4 hour layover.  Then another 2.5 hours flight to St. Louis. 

We certainly had some frustrating moments during this vacation.  But all in all, I still had a great time.  Loved the beaches and the snorkeling.   Loved our Wyndham accommodations.  Loved sharing it with family.  Hopefully we'll get to do it again someday and it'll be sunny and calm everyday!

22 comments:

  1. Wow! We have been going to the USVI for 13 years! We have timeshare at Bluebeards Castle and Maegans Point.I love to snorkel and have been to many of the places you went! Looking forward to checking out Cowpet and Smiths Bay. Your pictures are wonderful and love you trip blog. My cannon died last year and picked up the Olympus too. What settings did you use? Your pictures are amazing and make me long to be there again!

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    1. Thanks! We go to Kauai like you go to USVI. It was nice to have a land based vacation in the Caribbean for a change---although I didn't give up Kauai, going there in Jan. For the underwater pictures, I just set the Olympus to the underwater setting. Many of the above water photos were taken with my Canon 60D dslr. Don't forget to check out Bluebeard's Beach for snorkeling, too!

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  2. Thank you so much for your comments and photos! They are so very helpful. I just booked our 15th wedding anniversary trip for Elysian in Sept. 2014! I'm sure a week won't be long enough! -Cathi

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    1. Congratulations! I'm sure you're going to love it. I just booked a trip there for my son and daughter in law for Aug. 2014.

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  3. Just inherited an RCI prime Membership from my father passing, Going to The USVI for our 30th wedding anniversary, or would like to anyway, we've been to Hawaii for our honeymoon and we live in Florida now. We'd really like to get away as the last 9 years have been kind of rough with my dad's failing health and my back issues.
    I was told by an online friend that the Elysian was the place to go if your going to the USVI for the first time? does that sound about right? I don't know how this condo vacation club thing works either, but I heard RCI is quite helpful to new even existing customers? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated, we're thinking on going either Feb or March of 2014, even though our anniversary isn't until Oct. Thanks so much.

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    1. I'm not sure how the RCI prime membership works, we just have RCI for exchanges. Feb. and March are pretty busy times for the Caribbean, so you may have to see what you can get and go from there. If the Elysian is available to you, I'd highly recommend it. If you can get a parlor studio, I'd highly recommend that, too. If they list them by studio but not double, king, or parlor---look for capacity 2 with a full kitchen, that would be the parlor. Good luck!

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  4. Really enjoyed your blog. I'm from Iowa and we are heading there for 12 days in Feb/March. We usually do all inclusive so this will be a change. Thinking of doing a day charter to the BVI. have you tried that?

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  5. REally wanted to go to Virgin Gorda, but we just didn't find the time. Amazing how quickly 9 days can go!

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  6. I very enjoyed your blog. The pictures and details of your trip are wonderful; I feel as if I was there vacationing with you. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Excellent blog, I agree it felt like we were there. Great Job!!

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  7. I am a worldmark member and I believe I read your vacation blog from Hawaii also. I have to tell you,I soooo enjoy reading them!!!! I wish I could go on vacation with you! Thank you for posting such great photos and comments. It brightens my day. When I can't go on vacation, I live vicariously through others!

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    1. Maybe you caught my live blog on Kauai in Jan. 2014?

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  8. We thoroughly enjoyed your great journal! All the photos were amazing! We have been snorkeling for years and don't have an underwater camera…what is wrong with us!! LOL We're getting one before our trip to St. Thomas! Thanks for convincing us we're making the right decision!! We were originally thinking Puerto Rico…..but so many more snorkel options in the Virgin Islands!

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    1. I don't think you'll be disappointed with St. Thomas. Loved the snorkeling there---and the warm water!

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  9. What would you say the average depth your pictures were taken was?

    I'm currently planning a vacation to St. Thomas + St. John that will involve a lot of snorkeling but I'm going with someone who's not experienced at all.

    Thanks for the amazing blog post. This has tons of specific information I was looking for!

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    1. We normally snorkel along the coast line, so we're usually in pretty shallow water. Sometimes around the points it'll get deeper, but snorkel pictures turn out better in shallow water, so we usually don't venture too far from shallower water.

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  10. Loved your post!! I am going to the Elysian resort in September for my honeymoon & will definitely be checking out some of the spots you talked about!

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    1. Congratulations! I'm sure you 2 will have a wonderful time there.

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  11. Thanks for a great blog with ~really~ good info. Lots of helpful things to know!! My husband and I were given a week at The Elysian from my parents for our 10 year anniversary. We're headed there in October 2015 and were planning on ~not~ renting a car. We're great walkers and runners and don't mind taking the time to do that to get around...but would you recommend getting a car? If we chose not to, we've heard there are a number of taxis around...is this the case? Any suggestions?

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    1. That's a tough question to answer. You would definitely need to take a taxi to the resort which would probably be as much as a few days car rental fare, but if you get nervous driving on the other side of the road, it might be worth it. On the other hand, there aren't many sidewalks either, so it could be dangerous walking or running on the road. If you just plan to go between the Elysian and Red Hook (with the Ritz and Secret Beach also being on the road to the Elysian, which wasn't too crowded), then you would probably be ok without a car. You may even get as far as Sapphire, but I wouldn't try walking or running farther than that.

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  12. Thanks so much for your fantastic information! I just reserved 9 days in January 2017 at the Elysian, we do have to switch rooms but after reading your blog I think it will be worth it. We have a studio parlor for 1 week and then switch to a Studio King. My husband wanted to know is the currency the same and he is not an avid snorkeler so is there much else that you would recommend doing. I love to snorkel and wish we shared that interest, but he does not swim! How do I find out schedule and fees for the ferry to St. John?

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    1. yes, they use the US dollar. There are lots of water "toys" for rent there----kayaks, boards, etc. but if he doesn't swim, those might not be a good idea. Does he like photography or reading---the many beaches are great for that. Red Hook is close for bar hopping. He can even catch a game on tv in the restaurant on property. Hike over to the Ritz down the street from the Elysian and check out their bar. Check out Margeritaville. I imagine the resort would have the schedule and fees for the ferry. It's close to the Elysian.

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