Hello everyone and happy Friday! Like many of you, I read as much as I can about St. John online. I like to read the Facebook groups, the forums, TripAdvisor, the real newspapers (remember we’re just a little blog here), basically any group or publication that talks about the island. I do this so I know what is being said about the island and to see how our current, potential, future and past guests feel about St. John. That being said, I felt after reading many of these sites lately that is was time for a lengthy island update. So here is goes… (And please forgive me if this post is disjointed and all over the place. I just want to get out as much information as I can today…)
Ok, let’s start right where everyone starts during their visits to St. John – at the ferry dock in Cruz Bay. Well for starters, the ferries are now running hourly up until 10 p.m. That’s great progress! It also means that we can go over and support our neighbors in St. Thomas and have dinner once in awhile. It also means that they can come here and support us. Double bonus.
So when you come into Cruz Bay on the ferry, there are some great sights and some not-so-great sights. On the positive, the boats are back in the harbor. All of the vessels have been removed from the beach. The water is a beautiful turquoise blue. The hillsides are green. The taxis are waiting to whisk you away. High Tide is open and waiting to serve you your first Painkiller. St. John Spice is open and is stocked with a variety of souvenirs and treats. Beach Bum is waiting to rent you snorkel gear and has everything you need for the perfect beach day. Freebird and Vibe are open for those of you who want to buy some island jewelry. Cruz Bay Landing is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is serving a full menu. These are just a few examples of what’s open in that area, and it’s all quite wonderful.
I can’t, however, ignore the elephant on the island. Does that even make sense? Well I’m sure you all know where I’m going with this. I’m talking about Wharfside Village, which is the parcel that stretches along the beach from Waterfront Bistro down to The Beach Bar. Sadly, it remains closed and will be through at least May at this point. You may be wondering why? Well back in November, we wrote a pretty comprehensive overview of the damage over there. (Click here to read that article.) At that time, the owner hoped to reopen by March 1st. Unfortunately that is not happening. Why? Mainly due to insurance. Five months after Irma hit and insurance money is just starting to trickle in. And when I say trickle, I mean trickle. That means that many businesses and homeowners have had to pay out of pocket for repairs up until now. And the money that is coming in isn’t coming in the form of huge checks. The initial checks are a fraction of what is needed to repair these places.
The owner of Wharfside had workers on site the day after Irma. They worked six days a week until about a month ago. Up until then, the owner was paying 100 percent out of his pocket. That clearly cannot go on forever, so work stopped. Now that the insurance is starting to trickle in, work can resume. We mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating – Rum Hut needs to be completely rebuilt. The Beach Bar will need extensive repairs. The Parrot Club will need extensive repairs. The future of Waterfront Bistro is unknown. The majority of the residences on the second floor – some vacation rentals and some long-term apartments – have been gutted and will need to be rebuilt. The roofs need to be repaired. All of the electrical need to be brought up to code. All of this takes time. But please trust me when I say that the owner wants to get Wharfside back up and running as soon as possible. All of us here on island want those Bushwackers on the beach just as much as you all do.
Now back on to some positive…
When you walk out of the parking lot at Wharfside, you can see progress. Oh and I forgot to mention that island Cork is open at Wharfside, and Bamboo’s studio is working on site to make jewelry. (Those are the only two businesses open at Wharfside.) Slim’s and 420 across the street are open too! Ok, so when you take a right out of Wharfside’s lot (which you can do by foot only, as it is currently closed to the public), Banana Deck, The Terrace and Drink are all open. Low Key Watersports is open. Grande Bay, Lavender Hill and Gallows Point are all open and accepting guests too. Ocean 362 at Gallows is open and delicious! Down the hill, Elaine Estern is working hard to reopen her studio. Frank Bay looks beautiful, although we all miss the Goddess Athena and Captain Benson. The beach at Cruz Bay still has some debris on it, but it’s still beautiful. I feel lucky every morning when I get to walk out there.
Cruise through Cruz Bay and you will, again, see lots of progress. The Lime Inn, Da Livio, De Coal Pot, Quiet Mon, Extra Virgin, Dog House, La Tapa, Our Market Smoothies, Rhumb Lines, Caps Place, Uncle Joes… they’re all open. Cruz Bay Hotel is open and is packed with guests! Lots of car rental places and markets are open too.
Now back to some not so positive stuff… The customs building is still in shambles. And honestly, it looks terrible. We’ve heard that they were planning to put up a temporary building, but that has yet to happen. In the meantime, you have to check in to customs in Charlotte Amalie (if you plan to check back in) following a day in the BVI. Just across the street, the Lumberyard also looks awful. The complex was made entirely of wood and was heavily damaged during Irma. We spoke with the company who owns it back in December, and they stated it was a total loss and would be torn down. So sadly all of those business were forced to close including Barefoot Cowboy, Driftwood Dave’s and Jake’s. The water and ice plant is the only business there that remains open, and that’s because its owner is a complete rockstar! The future of the Lumberyard remains uncertain at this time.
Back to the positive! Nella’s at the bottom of the hill is open is open (every then and again), as are the two little stores beside it. Margarita Phil’s is open as is Philomena’s delicious ice cream shop next door. The National Park Visitor’s Center across the street is open and the playground is too for those of you planning to bring the kiddos to the island. Morgan’s Mango has been completely rebuilt and hopes to reopen later this month from what I hear.
Drive a little further and you will see Mongoose, which looks great. Glen Speer certainly knows how to build! The Tap Room, Sun Dog, Ocean Grill and Greengo’s are all open. There are also several shops like Island Fancy and Big Planet that are open too. Made in St. John remains closed, although I did see work happening there earlier this week. They are also working on their sister store, Pig & Rooster, over near the ferry dock, so I expect both to reopen in the near future.
The ball field across from Mongoose is now somewhat of a staging area. There is gravel covering a good portion of the field, which was used by the military back in September as a camp. The BBC trucks now park over there. Once the recovery phase is completed, we are certain this will become a ball field once again.
Now on to everyone’s favorite spots – the North Shore beaches. So as you drive up North Shore Road past Mongoose Junction, everything looks great. The leaves are on the trees, and as I mentioned earlier, this hillsides are nice and green. I stop at the Cruz Bay overlook almost daily during my News of St. John Island Tours, and that too looks pretty good. You can see the damaged customs building, Battery, Lumberyard and school. But if you are able to look beyond that, you see the beautiful Caribbean Sea in all of its glory. It’s truly a stunning view.
Right next door, Estate Lindholm is open and accepting guests. Asolare, the restaurant on site, was destroyed and its future is unknown. Drive over the small hill and you will come to the National Park sign. Just before that on your left is a small road with National Park housing. Much of it was destroyed, which is why we currently are not offering popular programs like the guided Reef Bay hike. The employees were temporarily assigned to other parks while their housing is repaired. We expect those programs to be back up and running in a few months.
From the National Park sign, you can get your first glimpse of Caneel Bay. Many of our views have been opened up following the storms. Many are starting to fill in quite nicely, but there are still some areas where you can see views that you could not before. To your left is the start of the upper Lind Point trail and to your right you can pick up the Caneel Hill trail. All of our hiking trails on island have been cleared, are open and safe to use. (The entire National park, which covers two-thirds of the island, is open.)
So now we’re cruising down North Shore. The first pullover is the Caneel Bay overlook, and to be honest, it looks pretty terrible. There’s a lot going on over there. So much that we are going to end Part 1 of our island update here. Please stay tuned for Part 2, which will provide an update on Caneel, the North Shore beaches including Cinnamon, and much more.