It’s Time to Party Mardi Gras-Style!

mongoose junction

If you are lucky enough to be on island, you’re going to want to swing by Mongoose Junction tonight because our friends over there are ready to party!

Mongoose Junction is holdings its first ever Mardi Gras in the Courtyard party tonight, and it sounds like it’s going to be a great time. The party starts at 8:30 p.m. and will continue until it stops. :) And for those of you over on St. Thomas, you can come too as there will be a late ferry this evening at midnight.

Masks and beads will be provided, and costumes are encouraged. Music will be provided by The Ish, and there will be Absolute, Cruzan and Jameson drink specials.

Mutt Mixer ACC Fundraiser Happening Tonight

(Pre-storm pic)

(Drink – Pre-storm pic)

Hello everyone and happy Friday! As many of you who follow us may know, the Animal Care Center is not holding its annual fundraising gala this year as a result of last year’s storms. But we are excited to tell you all that our friends at Drink have stepped up and are holding a fundraising “Mutt Mixer” this evening to support the ACC. A HUGE thank you to Drink for that!

Tonight’s party, which starts at 5:30 p.m., is to celebrate the dogs and cats on St. John, as well as the humans that tirelessly care for them and find their forever homes. The “Mutt Mixer” will feature a fun evening of drinking, dancing, donating and dogs! All dogs are welcomed as long as they stay on a leash and are on the beach. There’ll even be a satellite bar down there for the puppy owners.

There will be beer and wine specials, as well as a 50/50 raffle. You can even purchase some of the latest ACC merchandise. And please bring along the kids too! All Dogs Go to Heaven will be played on the big screen.

The party is being sponsored by Tito’s vodka and will be catered by Dog House Pub. A portion of the night’s proceeds will also be donated to the ACC.

You may have read how Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation evacuated numerous animals from the ACC and transported them statewide. That was an amazing effort, but sadly, our shelter has many animals once again. If you are interested in adopting a cat or dog, please contact the ACC. Adorable Willy, for example, is looking for a forever home. Poor Willy was found tied to a tree by his waist in Tortola. He was brought to St. John where Dr. Laura performed an amazing surgery on him. He is now doing well, likes long walks and is good with other dogs. And on top of all of that, he is adorable!!

Willy is available for adoption at the ACC.

Willy is available for adoption at the ACC.

Want to know more about Willy or the other dogs and cats available for adoption? Please contact the ACC at  info@stjacc.org or check out their Facebook page here.

An Update From the Westin – February 2018

The Westin pool pre-storms

The Westin pool pre-storms

We received the following message from one of our readers yesterday. It was sent out yesterday morning to the timeshare owners at the Westin. As you will see in this message, it appears that the Westin is on track to reopen in January 2019 as previously stated. While we wish they could reopen sooner, I am happy that they remain on schedule. Here is the message in its entirety with a few comments from me:

Dear Fellow Virgin Grand Villas Owner:

We recently participated as your representatives in a special conference call meeting of the Board of Directors that was convened to approve the construction contract with Cotton International Inc., the company that has been working to clear the debris at the resort and that will repair the damage to our buildings and to the resort’s common areas.

As you know, Hurricane Irma brought the greatest damage that St. John has suffered in many decades, causing enormous destruction on the island, which is still limping back. Tourism remains at a very low level. Each airline has only one flight a day to St. Thomas, and transportation and communication to and from St. John remains limited. (Note from Jenn: This isn’t entirely true. American, for example, has two flights a day. Transportation is not limited. The passenger ferry runs hourly until 10 p.m. daily.) A few restaurants have opened in Cruz Bay, but Caneel Bay remains closed indefinitely, and much of the island’s infrastructure remains to be rebuilt. (Note from Jenn: The majority of the restaurants are open in Cruz Bay. So say “a few” is inaccurate.)

As you know, our resort was badly damaged. We did not have roofs blown off as Sunset Bay did, but most or all units and their contents suffered water damage. (Note from Jenn: I’m assuming Sunset Bay refers to the beachside accommodations.) In nearly every unit, drywall and wet contents have been removed and will be replaced.

Fortunately, the Westin St. John, and all the Vistana properties affected by the hurricane, had a very substantial property insurance policy, with a 5% deductible, and our condominium association has for many years been laying away money in a special hurricane contingency fund. That fund currently has about $2 million in it, and of course our Association has additional reserves as well. The maximum deductible amount that we would have to pay for reconstruction of the Virgin Grand property is $2.34 million (5% of the $46.7 million total insured value of the Virgin Grand buildings), but management assures us that most likely the amount will be less than that. In addition to what we will have to pay for work on our own buildings, we will have to pay our share of the deductible portion of the cost for repair of certain common areas, such as landscaping, the pool and pool pumps, and the tennis courts. The final amount cannot be determined until later in the reconstruction process, but because of the funds we have reserved, we do not anticipate the need for a special assessment. We will, of course, have to rebuild the hurricane contingency fund because of the possibility of storms in the future.

After reviewing the contract with Cotton, the Board unanimously approved it, as did the boards of the three other condominium associations on the property of the resort.

All four boards have also retained environmental consultants to inspect the buildings, both before and after reconstruction, to detect mold and assure that the buildings will be safe for occupancy. Our consultant is Environmental Analytics, a reputable firm based in Tucson, Arizona. The firm will inspect every unit and take and analyze samples. Cotton has committed to following its recommendations or, if it disagrees with a particular recommendation, to report the disagreement to our Board of Directors for such action as the Board wishes to take. The resort remains on schedule to reopen in January 2019, and Vistana is accepting owners’ reservations of their units for weeks beginning January 4, 2019.

The next meeting of the Board will take place following the Annual Meeting on March 5 in Orlando.
Philip G. Schrag
Robert H. Werbel

Again, I am happy to hear that they are on schedule to open in January 2019. For those of you who are Westin owners and would like to visit St. John prior to next year, please consider staying at a different hotel/resort/condo/villa. We printed a list back in January of available places. Click here to check that out. 

On the Market: An Interesting Post-Hurricane Buy

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Hello folks and happy Wednesday! We have a very interesting real estate listing to tell you about today. In this case, it’s a home that was severely damaged during the hurricanes. The damaged structure has been removed, so the listing is essentially an improved lot with several great features. Here is the listing straight from 340 Real Estate Co.:

PROPERTY TO BE VIEWED WITH REALTOR ONLY! NO RAILINGS AND CAN BE DANGEROUS! Hurricane Irma damaged buildings and they have been removed. What exists are a 22.5’x14.5’x9.5′ 20,000 gallon concrete cistern, a 10×16 poured concrete pool with undamaged tile surface (pool filter and heater), deck, concrete septic system, a small storage room, 2 parking areas. There are mature fruit trees below the house footprint. Great water views.

Please check out some pics:

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This property is located in Fish Bay, which is roughly 10 minutes or so from Cruz Bay. Fish Bay is a very quiet neighborhood on St. John’s South Shore.

Interested? Want to learn more? The asking price for this property is $349,000. Please contact Mary Moroney of 340 Real Estate Co. at vi_fishbay@yahoo.com (340) 244-6664 for more information.

The Current State of the Island – Part 2

Hawksnest, February 2018

Hawksnest, February 2018

Ok folks, so we concluded Part 1 of our island update over at Caneel Bay on the North Shore. As I’m sure many of you know, Caneel took a major hit during Hurricane Irma and then again during Hurricane Maria. I haven’t been able to tour the property personally (they are not allowing people on site), but I have viewed it extensively via boat and from North Shore Road. There is major, widespread destruction throughout the property. In my super, non-expert opinion, it looks like a good portion of the resort, if not the majority, will have to be torn down and rebuilt.

As of today, there have been no visible repairs that have occurred on property. In fact, just last week, they finally attempted to mow their lawn for the first time. (That didn’t go over so well as the grass was so darn high.) So you may be wondering what the holdup is? Well, Caneel hasn’t said anything official as of yet. We have corresponded with them several times, although they have failed to have a detailed conversation with us despite saying they wanted to do so on a few occasions. We do know that a bill was introduced to Congress in December asking to extend the “retained use estate” for Caneel. This is a somewhat fancy way of saying that there are only a few years left on a bill (Amendment? … Sorry it’s been years since I’ve worked as a real reporter in politics) that gives Caneel permission to act as a resort on that particular piece of National Park property. It doesn’t make sense to dump a ton of money into a property when its “lease” (for lack of a better word) expires in a few years. This is such a complicated matter at this point that we are going to leave this topic here for the moment. We will have more on Caneel later in the week. The bottom line: It’s going to be a long time before they reopen.

Now back onto the current state of the island…

Cruise past Caneel and the first beach you will come to is Hawksnest. It honestly looks great. All of the pavilions survived and church service is still being held every Sunday at 10 a.m. (All are welcome.) The beach itself is lovely and appears to be a bit wider. Like most of the beaches, we lost some shade, but the place is still one of the most beautiful in the world. Hawsknest still has changing rooms and toilets too.

Drive past Hawknest and you will see Gibney Cottages. The landscaping took a hit, but is starting to look very good. The adorable white picket fence that lines the front of the property was just put up again last week. We hear the cottages are open for business, which is great news.

Right next door is Oppenheimer. The yellow building lost part of its roof, which is now covered with a blue tarp. We lost the majority of the palms that lined the beach including the iconic tree that once held the tire swing. Workers cleared a good deal of brush and debris last week, giving an entirely new look and feel to the space. Some love it. Some hate it. I guess you’re going to have to visit us and decide for yourself. :)

Just beyond that as you head up the hill is Easter Rock. It looks exactly like it did before the storm. I received several questions asking if it was leaning. It’s not. I use a fish eye lens with my GoPro, so you can see a wider view. Apparently this made Easter Rock look tilted during one of the videos I posted. Sorry to confuse several of you. All is well with Easter Rock. :)

Beyond that is the parking lot at Peace Hill. Again, nothing has changed here. The hike is still only .1 miles to Peace Hill while the walk down to Denis is a bit longer. Both Peace Hill and Denis Bay are accessible and look great. (Reminder: There is a private home at the end of the beach at Denis Bay. Please be respectful when in this area, and please do not go on the private property.)

The next beach down North Shore Road is Jumbie. This beach does not have too much evidence of the hurricane, which makes it one of my current favorites.

From there we come to the stunning Trunk Bay overlook. This is the scene that comes up nearly every time when you Google St. John. And you know what, it still looks absolutely amazing!! The shrubs were cut back just last week opening up an even greater view for those of you who are coming to visit us … and a HUGE thank you to all of you who are! Trunk Bay itself looks great too. Parking has been available nearly every time I ride by, which is definitely not the norm for February. But it’s great for those of you visiting the island. There is still no running water on site, which means no flush toilets, showers or concessions. There are very clean portable toilets on site. The rental hut is also open, so you can rent snorkel gear, chairs, etc. There is no charge to enter Trunk these days, as they cannot charge when they cannot offer the concessions, running water, etc.

Once you leave Trunk, you will drive up a few switchbacks before coming to the entrance of Peter Bay. This area looks pretty darn good and all of its beautiful landscaping has bounced back over the past five months. One home on the beach sustained a fair amount of damage, but the rest look like they fared pretty well.

From there, you start to see more damage. Cinnamon Bay is the next beach, and it sustained considerable damage. The campground remains closed, and just like Caneel, pretty much nothing has happened there to clean it up. The National Park cleaned up the entrance and exit areas at Cinnamon Bay, as well as the parking areas. They also cleared a path to the beach, and cleaned up the beach too. (It is not the National park’s responsibility to clean up the campground area.) The beach itself at Cinnamon looks great, but the walk getting there is quite sad. The eco tents that were installed last year are covered with trees, and the stucco (looks like concrete) little cottages are all severely damaged and will need to be torn down. The California company that runs the campground has told us that it wants to reopen, but we have no idea when that will actually occur. Lastly, the archeology lab on the beach was destroyed during Irma. Only its back wall remains. The positive: It makes for a beautiful pic. We’ve been told that Friends of the Park are planning to rebuild a new lab once the funds are raised. We will keep you all posted on this. Oh and there are very clean portable toilets here too.

Your next main stop along North Shore Road is the Maho and Francis bays overlook. This is an interesting stop. If you look toward the Maho area, it’s pretty sad. You can see that our pavilions are gone, that the road washed out and that many of the trees died during the storm. But if you look to your left, you see a beautiful hillside over at Mary Point. Whistling Cay looks great too, and the tiny ruin is still intact facing the bays.

Taking the initial turn over at Maho is like a punch in the gut the first time you see it. I am not trying to scare anyone here, but that’s our reality. The once heavily wooded area that greeted you at Maho is now just a mess of downed trees. (Full disclaimer: Maho is my absolute favorite place on St. John. It was before the storms and it continues to be today. Yes, it is completely different but it is still beautiful to me.) As I mentioned, we lost our pavilions and buildings on the western side of the beach. Only the toilet survived and that building is open. Further down the beach, orange barriers line the beachside of the road, marking the area where the road washed out. This section is currently one lane only. I like to stop further down the beach to gaze out at the water. As long as you can look past the downed trees and tree debris that lines several areas of the beach, you can see how beautiful a beach this continues to be. And there are so many turtles! Yes, they took off briefly after the storm (perhaps they needed a vacation like many of us did), but they are back, and there are so many of them! I often see them from the Jeep when I stop during my News of St. John island Tours. I love seeing them pop their little heads up when they go for a breath of air. But moving on… The parking lot on the east side of the beach is closed as we told you all last week. This should be closed for about two months while the National Park works on that area. We will keep you all posted on that. Lastly, the little yellow on the house at the bend is still there and pretty much looks exactly as it did pre-storm.

From there we cruise of the one-way and over to the Francis and Annaberg areas. Along the way, you can see the gravel road that was cut in on your left that leads to a home that was being built prior to the storms. The road looks like it washed out a bit, although it still remains. I haven’t seen any activity in this area over the last few months.

Now we’re at the intersection where you can take a right to Annaberg or a left to Francis. This is a very sad area in my opinion. The mangroves on the right look dead. They took quite a hit. The canopy of trees you drove under while en route to Annaberg is no longer. This area hurts. I have to be brutally honest about that. But on the bright side, the view out toward Tortola across from the Annaberg parking lot is still as beautiful as ever. There’s just something special about the colors over there. There are, however, a few destroyed boats in that area which is sad. But again, looking at the bright side, Annaberg itself looks great! There was a bit of crumbling, particularly at the boiling room, but the National park has secured the area and visitors are welcome. The views at Annaberg are some of the best on island in my opinion.

So now let’s head back down the road and over to Francis. The road leading to Francis looks great, as does Mary Creek on your right. The dirt road down to Francis doesn’t look that bad either, although there are some pretty good size potholes that have formed over the past month or so. Francis itself lost nearly all its shade, but the beach still looks fabulous. I do suggest you bring an umbrella when visiting this beach because the sun gets very hot. Some crafty visitors have constructed little huts (think Survivor-like) out of driftwood and branches, so if you are lucky, you can grab a spot near one of them and fling your towel over the top for some shade. I’ve seen turtles and rays at Francis too over the past month. I’ve also heard that one of the grills is now in the water … makes for a new snorkeling spot I guess. (Trying to see the positive here!!) But again, Francis looks great and I think you should all check it out on your next visit.

Wow, we covered a lot today and my fingers are starting to hurt – lol. I think I am going to leave it right here for now. Stay tuned for our next installment when we head over to Coral Bay and perhaps the East End or Salt Pond area. As always, thanks everyone for reading!!

They’re Back! And I’m So Excited!!

Seadream anchored off of Cruz Bay Sunday morning.

Seadream anchored off of Cruz Bay Sunday morning.

Hello everyone and happy Sunday! I woke up to such a wonderful sight out my window this morning … a cruise ship! Anchored off Cruz Bay!! They’re back!!! Woohoo!!!!

You may be wondering why I’m so excited about a cruise ship. Well today’s visit by Seadream is the very first cruise ship that has visited St. John since the hurricanes. This is one more step toward normalcy for those of us living on St. John. And some normalcy is a big deal these days. :)

Today’s vessel, Seadream 1, holds just 112 passengers. It’s typically for Seadream to visit us during the winter months, anchoring off Cruz Bay. Because as you most likely know, we do not have a large dock on St. John. Therefore we can only accommodate the smaller cruise ships, which anchor offshore in Cruz Bay. They then tender their passengers to shore.

Seadream was first supposed to visit back in November. They had several visits planned but all were rerouted after the hurricane. It looks like they’re going to come back a few more times this season with scheduled stops on February 18th, February 25th and March 11th. (You can check out the entire cruise ship schedule on vinow.com)

Now let’s hope those passengers head onshore and support our economy. Have a wonderful day everyone!