When we saw that our cruise was stopping in St. Thomas, both B & I said ‘eh.’ We have been to St. Thomas before & were less than impressed with this well known duty-free shopping & beach port. So we decided to leave Rock City (what the locals call St. Thomas) & hop a ferry to St. John.
Our group hopped on the blue & white Independent Sea for the 45 minute ride to St. John. The skies were a brilliant blue & the sun was out as we bobbed up & down, cork like, over the Caribbean Sea. The seas weren’t rough, but definitely noticeable – I think I only turned green once or twice. Captain Jack provided an interesting narration as we rumbled along – a few facts sprinkled among a lot of editorial commentary.
Soon enough, we arrived in the waters off of St. John. Before getting off the boat, we went on a little tour of the north side of the island, taking in Salomon Beach, Honeymoon Beach (where we were headed for the day), Caneel Bay (home to the five star Caneel Bay Resort), Hawksnest Bay (where they have shot the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition), & Trunk Bay. Off in the distance were the islands of Jost Van Dyke (which is definitely on my Caribbean bucket list!) & Tortola.
Back in Cruz Bay, we docked &, after a brief visit to the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center, hopped in a pick-up truck with a bench in the back (aka a Caribbean taxi) & headed toward Honeymoon Beach. I never would have discovered this hidden beach if it weren’t for the wonders of social media & the kind folks at Virgin Islands Ecotours. But thank goodness I did, as it’s possibly the most pristine stretch of sand I’ve ever seen. Virgin Islands Ecotours was nice enough to hook us up with day passes for snorkeling equipment, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, floats & beach chairs. The day pass normally costs $49 for adults & I’d say it’s money well spent (you can also rent equipment individually by piece).
We grabbed a tandem sit-on-top kayak & headed out into the pristine blue water. We paddled up & down the shore, exploring the waters near Caneel Bay Resort, admiring beautiful 50′ sailboats, checking out the National Park Service Head Ranger’s house & beaching our boat on Saloman Beach, where a friendly hiker helped pull us in. Before long, I could feel my legs beginning to burn (& oh did they burn!) under the strong Caribbean sun & we decided it was time for a swim.
Decked out in our snorkel, masks, fins & lifejackets, we snorkeled together for the first time (after missing out on snorkeling last year in Bermuda, B took swimming lessons over the winter & is now an expert!) over to some rocks, where we explored the coral reef hand-in-hand. We saw a lot of black & white fish & a few sting rays.
We swam back to the beach & while I laid on a float (hey, I was on vacation!), B snorkeled some more. Before long, he came bounding over to me, excited to have seen his first sea turtle. I borrowed his mask & snorkel &, unburdened by the floatation device I was wearing earlier, swam over to the area where B had spied the majestic creature. As I got closer, I slowed my pace & just floated, scanning the bottom of the ocean for the turtle, the silence that comes with snorkeling enveloping me, the clear, cool water like silk against my sunburned legs. Finally, I saw him: about 2′ wide, he slowly crawled along the sandy bottom, munching away on a mid-day snack, minding his own business & completely unbothered by me floating 10′ above him. It was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever had traveling: my first sea turtle! I felt totally connected to nature & all the emails, home improvement projects & stressful commutes that normally consume my life felt a million miles away.
Nothing could really top snorkeling with a sea turtle, so we resigned ourselves to beachside hammocks, content to lay there on the knotted rope, swaying gently in the breeze. Soon enough, it was time to walk back down the abandoned road to Caneel Bay, where we hailed a taxi back to the Cruz Bay dock. Having skipped lunch, we had just enough time to grab an ice cream from a local vendor, a reward for all that snorkeling. The ride back on in the ferry was a little less rocky on the way there – or maybe it was the complimentary rum punch they served by the pitcher (thank goodness we weren’t driving the cruise ship!).
I always have a default answer to the question “What’s your favorite Caribbean island?” It’s Barbados, the island where I’ve spent the most time. But after just a few hours in St. John, this beautiful Virgin Island is truly giving Barbados a run for its money. I can’t wait to go back & explore some more.
To get there…
- We did something we never do & booked the ferry trip through the cruise line. I’m a huge proponent of doing excursions on your own, but the regular public ferry to St. John is a good 20 minute taxi ride from the port. We were more than happy to pay a little extra to leave straight from the dock & save ourselves the hassle of paying for a taxi (it would have ended up being very close in price).
- To get to Honeymoon Beach from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay, take a taxi to Caneel Bay Resort. You’ll then walk through the resort on a well marked path, following signs for “public access to the beach.” Once or twice we got a little turned around, but resort staff was more than happy to point us in the right direction. After walking through the resort, you’ll come to a dirt road. Keep walking down that until you think you’ve walked too far – you haven’t. Toward the end of the dirt road, you’ll pick up the end of the Lind Point Trail (another way to get to Honeymoon Beach) & soon enough, you’re at the beach.