Month Visited: January
We are a family that enjoys being active and spending time outside, but we also enjoy comfort and luxury at times as well. We look for adventure and activities that are exciting, and we are willing to sacrifice comfort to go off the beaten path and experience out of the way places that are not part of the usual tourist experience. We try to balance educational activities with fun attractions that everyone enjoys and leisure stops where we can all relax. Our children at the time of this itinerary: 6 children-Girl age 15 years, Girl age 15 years, Boy age 15 years, Girl age 10 years, Boy age 7 years, Girl age 3 years.
Special information and tips about this trip: Today we charted a boat to explore the area around St John. We chartered a private boat through a company called One Love Charters and Captain Joe Trattner was our captain. There are many options to charter a boat, but if you want a private boat they can get very pricey. One Love Charters‘ price was fair and Joe was so easy and pleasant to deal with, both when I booked the trip and during the time we spent on the boat. Joe was also a great captain and we had an awesome day with him. We definitely recommend booking with Joe at One Love Charters.
There are some things that you need to know about a boat charter before planning this type of excursion:
Description: Snorkeling in Maho Bay is a very popular activity because of the abundance of marine life, and the calm waters which are clear and shallow. Sea turtles can be found swimming in the bay, and the bottom of the ocean is soft and sandy here in most places although there is some sea grass as well. The waters of the bay are sheltered and protected, and it is a popular stop for yachts in the area especially when the weekend hits.
Our Experiences: Captain Joe took us to snorkel in Maho Bay. We haven’t been to the Maho Bay beach yet, though we heard that it is beautiful. We wanted to see sea turtles and Captain Joe said we would have a decent chance of seeing these animals off the coast of Maho Bay. Sure enough we were lucky. We jumped off the boat and were rewarded with 3 sea turtles and a stingray. This was a great snorkel and the water was so clear. Even our 7 year old enjoyed it, though he tired out earlier than the rest of us and went back on the boat to be with his little sister. There is something very magical about snorkeling with your kids, holding hands with them and seeing beautiful sea creatures and these giant sea turtles.
Description: The Baths at Virgin Gorda is one of the most famous and popular beaches in the Virgin Islands, and it is called a geological wonder that inspires awe. Large boulders of granite are interspersed with hidden caves and trails, and these rocks allow pools of water to develop which are sheltered from the sun. This spot is a popular destination for cruise passengers, and during certain times of day this beach area can become quite crowded.
Our Experiences: I heard a lot about this place and the photos were pretty cool. We weren’t sure if it would be worth the trip but it was, and we loved this place. The boat ride there was a bit difficult and very choppy. At first the kids loved it and thought it was exciting, but since it was an hour ride from Maho Bay after awhile they grew tired of it. They all agreed it was well worth it once they got to Virgin Gorda though. Because it is a national park Captain Joe could not take us all the way to shore, but he said he could drop us at a dock and we could take a cab to the baths or he could anchor offshore and we could swim to shore. We opted to swim. We didn’t mind the swimming and it wasn’t far. We “carried” the 3 year old, and our 7 year old had no trouble swimming to shore.
We swam to a beach in Devils Bay, which was a nice area but I would not recommend swimming here because of all the pick up and drop offs of the dinghies. It is just too busy. There were some larger boats that had small rubber dinghies that brought their passengers all the way to shore. We started our walk to the baths, and we stopped along the way under a cool rock cave for a picnic lunch which the kids enjoyed.
Our 7 year old left to explore the surrounding caves and left his pasta plate uncovered. When he returned to his plate he was surprised / chagrined / delighted (all 3!) to see a medium size lizard feasting on his pasta. Needless to say he didn’t eat it after that. From the cave we continued our walk to the baths. We all thought it was really cool. Basically you climb through rocks and streams, and into pools of sea water and into and out of caves, many of which have sea water, some knee high and some waist high. The walk is slippery in some places, and there are some rickety ladders and small amounts of climbing over rocks, but nothing too difficult for the average person.
Older family members may have difficulty at times, and may elect to wait behind at some spots, but there is enough to keep their interest even if they don’t do everything. They should however opt for the taxi or dinghy route as they may have trouble swimming to shore. We absolutely loved this place. Huge thumbs up from all the kids, from the 3 and 7 year old to the 15 year olds, and from the adults too.
Many people had regular cameras and smart phones to take photos but I don’t recommend that. We brought an underwater camera which is much safer. It is an adventurous place but not too strenuous. A little hard, and expensive, to get to but really worth it.
Description: The caves at Norman Island consists of three caves, two that are large and one that is smaller, and snorkelers can explore these caves and view many marine plant and animal species. The water in the area is typically calm but the caves do have entrances that can be rocky. Inside the caves the bottom is sandy and soft, and ferns may be viewed growing on the cave walls. Tropical fish and coral can be seen in abundance, and there are interesting rock formations where fish hide and play.
Our Experiences: This is an area that took us about 20-25 minutes to get to from Virgin Gorda. We moored near an area called the caves, and there was some great snorkeling there which was the best we have had thus far in the vacation. By this time some of the kids were too tired to join in the fun but those that did loved it. We were told that snorkeling in the caves was great. We talked to a woman who had just come out of of the caves and she said she went all the way until the end of the cave and when she saw the light at the end it was “brilliant”. My kids were uncomfortable since at some point the cave became very dark as we ventured deeper in, and they did not want to go further. Since I could not leave them alone I could not go either, and admittedly snorkeling in a dark cave all alone scared me a bit too. Captain Joe said we could also stop at the beach on Norman island but we chose not to.
Description: The Indians near Norman Island are a unique set of rock formations that resemble the feathers of an Indian headdress, and this is often considered one of the best snorkeling spots because of the large coral gardens and the wide variety of tropical fish that inhabit these waters.
Our Experiences: These are some rock formations. We were told the snorkeling is often good here but we did not have any luck and did not stay long. It was not really out of the way so it was not a big deal for us to have gone, but I would not make a special trip.
Address: Cruz Bay, St. John US Virgin Islands
Phone: +1 340 693 9160
Hours: Depends on Day
Description: Our Market Smoothies offers refreshing fruit smoothies, milk shakes and ice creams, and even rum drinks for adults who want a spiked tropical concoction. Only all natural and fresh ingredients are used. Whether you are looking for a quick pick me up or a light snack this place has what you are looking for.
Our Experiences: We needed a boost of energy from an awesome but tiring day, and this place hit the spot for all of us. We loved the delicious smoothies, there was no milk or sugar- just fruit and crushed ice. Alcohol can be added for adults who choose so. It is a small shack like place but the smoothies are great and the owner, Thomas the self-styled “drink specialist”, is super friendly and even gave our kids a brief lesson on how to be a leader instead of a follower by telling an amusing story. Thomas seemed to have a lot of fans based on the people who were there when we were there.
We rented a car (actually 2 cars) for this trip on St. Thomas from Discount Car Rental. We found them to be pleasant to deal with, and their rates were competitive. We chose to rent on St. Thomas, because it was more economical to rent on St. Thomas than St. John (based on prices we were quoted at the time), and if we had to take cabs from the airport in St. Thomas to the ferry or car barge, that also would have cost more money. So all around it made sense for us to rent on St. Thomas. and we were pleased with our choice of Discount Car Rental. I would definitely recommend calling them for a quote. At the time we traveled, they advised us that they do service the cars that go to St. John (not all St. Thomas rental companies do that). Confirm this with anyone that you rent with.