The following is Heather’s journal of the vacation. All the photos I’ve published from the trip can be found here:
Here is a recap of our trip to St. John in the USVI, Walt Disney World and Cape Canaveral, FL. It was a wonderful trip (albeit much too short) and getting to spend time with Bruce was very special.
Saturday, Feb 6
Waking up at the crack of dawn in Boston we made our way in the bitter February cold to the airport. The check-in, TSA screening and flight was uneventful. We arrived at the airport in St. Thomas an hour later than expected due to the major snowstorms going through the Mid-Atlantic States. It made me thankful that we had a direct flight. We rented a 4-wheel drive Jeep from the Budget rental company at the airport and headed to Red Hook to catch the car ferry to St. John. The ferry runs hourly on the half hour and the boat was pulling in as we got there. The ferry was very easy and after backing the Jeep on to the boat we were on our way. We got out of the car to catch some breezes on the upper deck and had our first view of St. John. The weather was sunny, mid-70’s, slight breeze and not a raindrop in sight all week…absolute paradise especially given the freezing weather we had just left. Upon arrival in Cruz Bay we headed to Starfish Market at The Marketplace to get some provisions for breakfast the next day.
The drive to Concordia from Cruz Bay took about 45 minutes along Route 20. What a beautiful drive and Bruce was especially thankful that he had the fortune of driving partway behind a large construction vehicle that took up most of the road and honked loudly warning oncoming traffic that it was approaching the switchback. Above and beyond having to “keep-left”, the switchbacks on St. John are brutally steep. As you come up some of the hills the road seems to just disappear from in front of the car. We were tired upon arrival and decided to eat at Café Concordia that night to keep it simple. The meals there were a tad expensive, but the food was good and a bonus that it was steps away from our tent. Bruce had a salmon dish and I had a flatbread with Manchego and prosciutto along with a couple of iced teas to wash it all down. So good after the long drive and we could not have asked for a better view looking out over Salt Pond Bay as the sun set, absolute paradise. We unpacked our bags and settled in for the first night to the night sounds of crickets and gentle waves lulling us to sleep.
Sunday, Feb 7
Waking up with the sun we started a routine that we carried out each morning on the island. I would wake up, head to the bathroom, douse myself with bugspray so as to not get eaten alive and then set the table on our porch for a leisurely breakfast. Bruce would get up, head to the bathroom, douse himself with bugspray and then try to capture the wildlife through his camera lens while eating breakfast and enjoying the view. He set up some very creative lures throughout the week and we have some great pictures of the visitors enticed to our porch by his sugar-water, mango and banana pieces. We came to St. John to snorkel and snorkel we did on our first day. We drove by Cinnamon Bay coming in and headed back there for our first day. The parking was easy and our tour book indicated that the beach was great for beginners. First, we stopped by Maho Campground to buy some sandwiches and drinks for lunch and then checked out the charter options endorsed by Maho. Cinnamon Bay is absolutely gorgeous and we tucked ourselves under a Maho tree that provided shade for the entire day. After getting out our snorkel gear, we headed in to see what we could see. Not 30 feet into the water we spotted a turtle munching away carefree on the grassy bottom. He was a good size and I was very excited for what this meant we were going to see the rest of the week. We continued on snorkeling our way around a point to Maho beach and saw plenty of coral and fish on the way. There were a lot of people on Maho beach from the campground and we decided to head back to Cinnamon Bay as it was much less crowded. Swimming back around Bruce noticed a guy standing in the water looking at the hillside facing Maho campground. Soon he noticed that there were two very large iguanas scrambling up the hillside and knocking sand down as they moved. Very cool and I regretted not stopping to look at them more as we didn’t see anything that big for the rest of the week. Getting back to our towels we dried off and opened up our lunch. We were not alone on the beach for long as 3 resident chickens began to circle hoping for a handout. Little did they know that I was not a rookie and realized that if I handed out anything that would have been the end of our peace and quiet on the beach. They soon wandered off looking for easier targets. After a nap and more swimming, we headed back to Cruz Bay to purchase some more food to stock up our fridge. We also stopped in to the National Park Service Visitor Center to ask about signing up for their guided tour of the Reef Bay Trail. They do a guided tour where you hike down the length of the trail and then get picked up at the bottom and ferried back to Cruz Bay eliminating the need to climb back up the rather steep elevation. Unfortunately they were fully booked up so we didn’t get to sign up for that tour. Getting back to Concordia we started our second daily ritual of taking a dip in the pool to cool off from the days activities and then taking a shower using the solar shower. We found that the afternoon was the warmest time of day to take advantage of the solar shower. That night we dressed up and I tried my hand at driving and “keeping left” as we headed to Coral Bay to Island Breezes for dinner. In my opinion they had the best buffalo wings and burgers on the island. This perhaps was influenced by my consumption of an absolutely beautiful island concoction called a “painkiller”. It is a yummy mixture of dark rum, OJ, pineapple juice, coco lopez and topped off with just sprinkle of grated nutmeg.
Monday, Feb 8
Today we decided to stay even closer to home. After breakfast and cleaning up the tent we packed up a lunch and hiked down from the campground to Salt Pond Bay. It was a relatively easy trail and we ended up getting to the beach so early that we had our choice of spots to set up. We found a shady spot with a picnic table and set up camp for the day under a nice shade tree. At Salt Pond we had the fortune of seeing a group of cuttlefish and a rather large barracuda. A lot of the week I felt that ignorance was bliss. The group next to us later asked if we had seen the 4ft specimen and only then did I realize what I had been looking at. Bruce had a chance to test out his video equipment while snorkeling this day and we had a fun time exploring the different reefs mostly off to the left-hand side of the beach. A quick nap under the shade tree and we hiked back up to Concordia later in the afternoon for a refreshing swim then shower. We made dinner on our deck and watched the best sunset of the week. Bruce had read somewhere that Concordia had mosquito netting for the beds and we asked at the store. The mosquitoes were eating me alive and it was hard to sleep being woken up by their incessant buzzing in the ear. I was so grateful that he did this as it made for much more comfortable sleeping. No need to go to bed coated in bug spray=happy girlfriend.
Tuesday, Feb 9
Today we switched it up by heading out for a hike. We wanted to do the Reef Bay trail, but didn’t want to hike down and then back up the 947 foot 2.4 mile trail (we are on vacation). After some research we headed to the Lameshur Bay trail instead. This trial has about 467 feet of elevation and is 2.6 miles long down to the Reef Bay sugar factory. There are some sugar mill ruins that we inspected before setting up for lunch on the beach. At some point during lunch Bruce looked behind us on the beach and noticed that there were mongoose (plural of which is mongoose-dem on St. John) loitering behind us as we ate. We proceeded to finish our lunch and get both video and pictures of the “shy” creatures. Heading back out from the beach got plenty sweaty during our hike back. As we were driving out, we noticed two people hitchhiking and pulled over to give them a ride. Their names were Scott and Anna and they were the glass blowing artists in residence at Maho campground. During our drive together they informed us that Friday night was prime rib night at Maho, advice that we took full advantage of later in the week. We got home and after dinner and watching the sun set from our porch, then we headed down to listen to the steel drum artist playing that night at the Café Concordia pavillion. We had several drinks (one of which was a “mistake” given to Bruce by the bartender) and then stumbled back to the tent.
Wednesday, Feb 10
Back to snorkeling…today we decided to head out to the Waterlemon Cay area. We checked out the ruins of an old suger mill at Annaberg before heading over to participate in a Waters Edge Walk led by a park ranger from the National Park Service. The ranger pointed out animals and plants native to the island near the shoreline. There were several small boys on the tour and I’m sure it’s because of them that we saw so much. They pointed out queen conch, sea cucumber and even our first sting ray of the trip. I say leave it to young boys to find all the animals hiding in the shallow water in the grass. The ranger also pointed out the Machineel tree nearby and discussed its caustic properties. She said you should never locate yourself below this tree especially during rain. She also let us know that she had noticed a Machineel tree located at Salt Pond Bay with a picnic table underneath it last time she was there. Yet another reason for me to believe that ignorance is bliss. Thankfully we did not have any ill effects from our day possibly spent beneath this caustic tree at Salt Pond Bay. After this walk we headed over to a rocky beach to access the water closer to Waterlemon Cay. We had lunch then started our swim out to this cay. One side of Waterlemon was full of fish and coral, the other had mostly died out. Waterlemon was probably where we saw the best coral of the week. After Waterlemon Cay, we decided to head to the grassy beach area and saw some more cuttlefish and two rather large rays. Just as we were about to leave a lady yelled that she was looking at a turtle and we went back into the water to chase the turtle around for a bit. Wrapping up our snorkeling we headed over to the East End of the island to check out Sloop Jones and his t-shirts. On our way back we stopped at Vie’s Snack Shack for some yummy conch fritters with hot sauce. The goats across the street from the snack shack were particularly vocal and it was fun to watch them chase each other. Dinner that night was at Skinny Legs, it seems that they have some sort of New England connection as they had Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics banners displayed prominently on the walls. They also had a great t-shirt store called The Jolly Dog adjacent where we found a lot of nice shirts including the “Dip” shirt that Bruce purchased outlining all of the dip signs that had been modified by locals on the island, very whimsical.
Thursday, Feb 11
We awoke early today to head over to Cruz Bay to catch our charter on the Stormy Petrel. Rick and Rachael were our guides for the day. Rick even let me pilot the boat on our way over to Spanishtown, Virgin Gorda where they had to process our paperwork through British customs. On the way to Virgin Gorda Rick pointed out a dolphin in front of the boat as well as a rather unusual yacht called simply “A” which we later googled and found to be owned by Russian Business Tycoon, Andrei Melnichenk. From there, we went to the Baths at Virgin Gorda. What an amazing place! The current was incredibly strong today everywhere we went and we needed to take a lot of care just to get onto the beach at the baths. People were being pulled off their feet as they attempted to get to shore. Rick led us through the baths while giving us an overview of this incredible rock formation. From there, we went to the Cooper Island Beach Club Restaurant for lunch. They called our lunch orders in ahead of time so that they were ready when we got there. This island has roughly 15 people that live there and they run the hotel, restaurant and gift shop. The beach was lovely and the food was absolutely delicious. Both Bruce and I had the Chicken Roti wrap with mango chutney…so good! Properly fueled we headed to The Indians to snorkel. The current was again a factor here and a lot of the passengers onboard elected to not snorkel too far from the boat. We then headed back to Cruz Bay to go through US Customs. We did a brief bit of shopping at Mongoose Junction and then headed back to Coral Bay and dinner at Shipwreck Landing before heading home.
Friday, Feb 12
We headed out today with the idea that we would rent kayaks from Maho and go out to Whistling Cay to snorkel. Upon arrival we discovered that our plans were to yet again be effected by the storms in the mid-atlantic. The waves were so strong on the beach at Maho that they were not allowing anyone to take out kayaks. The guy at the rental shop suggested that we check out Haulover Bay on the East End of the island instead. He assured us that this beach was protected by Tortola and was not going to be as affected by the current. This was a very easy access beach and we had the entire beach to ourselves for the most part. We snorkeled over to the right hand side of the beach to rest for a bit on an isolated stretch of sand. We sat in the gentle surf for a bit and I collected some nice shells for my nephews. After watching some pelicans taunt us by posing close enough that Bruce could have gotten some good shots, we headed over to the other side of the beach. The center of Haulover bay was fairly deep and soon we were unable to see anything. I kept referring to it as primordial ooze and it took us a good 20 minutes to snorkel across it. As we got over to the left-hand side of the bay we found some excellent coral, lobsters and huge schools of fish. Just before we were going to get out of the water we spotted a 5-6 ft long nurse shark swim slowly by. From turtles to nurse sharks the progression of our snorkels throughout the week was just great. I don’t think I breathed while the shark went by and I was certainly shaking a bit after it had passed. It swam by so gracefully. That night we headed over to the absolute chaos that is Prime Rib night at the Maho Bay campground. Bruce and I were absolutely floored at the number of kids/people running around. We were unprepared for a cafeteria style dinner service and it was in full swing when we got there. After the dinner, we headed down to check out the glass blowing demonstration put on by Anna and Scott, the hitchhikers that we had picked up earlier in the week. We stayed for two of their demonstrations where they made a swordfish and attempted to pull a flower together that just didn’t work out. I was fascinated as I had never seen glass blowing this close. It is amazing the steps they go through till they get to the finished product. The glass seems to look like nothing at all until the end couple of steps when it emerges into its final shape and then goes into the annealer to cool down slowly overnight. We then headed back over the rough Maho road to Concordia to hop into bed for the night.
Saturday, Feb 13
Our final day on the island, we woke to watch the sunrise over Drunk Bay. We made breakfast for the final time and packed up for our trip to Orlando. We checked out of Concordia and filmed our final drive back to Cruz Bay for posterity. When we arrived at the car ferry we thought that we were going to be left on shore waiting for the next ferry, there certainly did not look like there was any space left on the boat. Somehow the car parkers were able to get two more cars on besides us, the parking guys on this barge know their stuff. We were not able to open our car doors, but we were on the barge. We drove around St. Thomas for a bit and then found a place to pick up some lunch. After lunch we found a scenic point that overlooked the airport. We stayed there watching the planes take off and land until we finally had to admit that we needed to catch the plane and return our rental car. Saying good-bye to St. John and this portion of the vacation was hard. It was such a special week to have had with Bruce. The flight from St. Thomas to Charlotte was uneventful. At the Charlotte airport I had promised Bruce that the last time I was there, they had some excellent BBQ restaurants. Unfortunately, we were not able to find one when we looked around. From Charlotte to Orlando we ended up sitting on the plane for over an hour while they attempted to “redistribute the fuel”. We arrived in Orlando past 11 and then waited for another hour plus for the Not-So-Magical, Disney Magical Express service to whisk us to our hotel for the night. We ended up walking into our room at the Coronado Springs around 1am and getting into bed around 2am.
Sunday, Feb 14
Valentine’s Day and for some reason we were up by 9am and ready to start our day. We found the breakfast at Coronado Springs and then headed to the Magic Kingdom for the first part of the day. We went on several rides including the Haunted Mansion and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We went to an exhibit that had debuted at the 1964/65 World’s Fair called Innovations. They had a comedy show modeled after Monster’s Inc called Laugh Floor that was very funny. Then I was nostalgic to see the Disney that I remembered as a kid so we went to see the Country Bear Jamboree show followed by the Hall of Presidents. The animatronics at Disney is amazing and yes they even had Obama up and giving a speech. We headed by bus to Hollywood Studios next where we saw several more shows including Muppets 3D and the Indiana Jones stunt show. The Indiana Jones show had way too much of a cheese factor for me. We next headed over to see the final viewing of Fantasmic! It is a show that Disney runs on two days a week. This show was incredible with all the latest water/projection/laser and fire effects. Very well integrated and just an amazing story to watch being performed. Some of the effects really took your breath away. The park closed after the show and we headed back to the room. Bruce had very thoughtfully ordered some chocolates and a carmel coated apple and rose which were waiting when we got back to our room that night. What a great guy and a great first day ending to this part of the trip.
Monday, Feb 15
We woke up early today to take advantage of the early opening of Animal Kingdom for guests that were staying at the Disney Resort Hotels. I knew the animals were going to be most active in the morning and wanted to take full advantage of that. We went on a Safari Ride, to the Bugs Life Show, had unknowingly walked into a character breakfast that featured Daisy Duck and Goofy. The Safari ride was a little too cheesy for my taste. Too much “keeping a look out for the poachers ahead mates”, and not enough information given on the animals we were actually seeing. We did go to a show entitled Flights of Wonder in which Bruce was picked as a volunteer to go up on stage and take pictures as an owl came swooping over his head and landed on a perch behind him. Very cool and the other birds in the show were amazing to watch flying around. Animal Kingdom was a little bit of a let down for me in that I had expected more information about the animals and not so much Disnification. We headed back to the hotel room for a quick nap and when we woke up; Bruce got a call from his parents letting him know that his Cousin Caryl and her daughter Andrea were down at Disney. We called Caryl and found out that they were at Epcot. We just happened to be heading for Epcot for the second part of our day so we made plans to sit down with them. What a small world and a nice surprise for the afternoon. It was good to catch up with them. We went on to ride the Mission: Space ride and then see a film on the Circle of Life. We had reservations at the Morocco restaurant at Epcot and had a nice meal with a bit of belly dancing and Moroccan music entertainment played on a Kanoune. We finished up the day watching the Epcot fireworks and speaking with a girl who was doing an internship at Disney.
Tuesday, Feb 16
Today we wanted to finish up the final couple of rides and attractions that we wanted to see at Epcot and Hollywood Studios. We got up and headed to see Soarin’, a new ride at Epcot which simulated a glider ride over the California coast. Pretty neat ride that included scents that were sprayed into the air as you rode over different scenes such as orange groves and pine forests. We then headed over to try out the Test Track. All I have to say about that is that Disney has nothing on some of the switchbacks and roads on St. John. We had a fancy lunch at Chefs de France in the French pavilion complete with a visit by Ratatouille. After lunch we caught a boat over to Hollywood Studios where we went to check out Star Wars and then proceeded to wait almost 3 hours in line for the new Toy Story ride. It was a great ride that was super interactive and much too short. We went to go see the Fantasmic! Show for the second time and finished our night with dinner at the Brown Derby.
Wednesday, Feb 17
Bruce woke up and went to get the car at Hertz while I stayed in the room to putter around a bit and pack luggage. We had breakfast at Disney and then headed off to our next adventure at the NASA Visitor Center. They had a 3-hr bus tour of the NASA grounds including the shuttle launch pads, the vehicle assembly building and a Saturn V rocket. We also learned that during every space shuttle launch there is an armored personnel carrier left idling near the launch pad as an emergency escape for the astronauts. If a problem occurs the astronauts ride a zipline from the top of the launchpad to a point a half mile or so away from the pad. The astronauts then have a decision to make – either run into a nearby bunker or risk their luck driving off in the armored personnel carrier. The Saturn V rocket we saw is one of three that were built but never used due to cuts to the Apollo moon program. The grounds around NASA are protected by the Department of the Interior and are home to many wild animals including 12 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Our tour guy even referred to the numerous armadillos we saw as “rats in spacesuits”. We also had the opportunity to touch a moon rock, and finished up our day at the visitor center watching an IMAX movie on the space station.
Thursday, Feb 18
We went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame where they had numerous astronaut memorabilia and also had the Mercury capsule flown by Scott Carpenter. We then went back to the NASA Visitor Center and finished up a the last couple of exhibits, including a hall of images taken by the Hubble Telescope and a visit to the rocket garden. We headed back to Disney to catch the Magical Express back to the Orlando airport and then back home to Boston.