April in St. John better than in Paris

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St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix are better places for Spring Vacation than Bermuda, San Diego, or Amsterdam!  The islands even beat Paris.

So says a recent poll conducted by US News and World Report which ranked the Virgin Islands as the "Best Spring Destination for 2012".

The magazine evaluated "fun locations with plenty of things to do without breaking the bank."  St. John won compliments for Trunk Bay and the National Park's amenities, while St. Thomas had an advantage for shopping and St. Croix is distinguished by its culture and heritage.

The Virgin Islands were ranked #1 among the top 16 Spring vacation spots.  (Paris was 4th!)

"Lighter crowds and lower prices on airfare and hotel accomodations were also credited with making the VIs a good spring spot," the survey said.

The Islands were rated highly in several other categories including Best Relaxing Getaways in the US (#2), Best Beaches (#2), and Best Romantic Getaways (#5).

More than 200 destinations were ranked by travel experts and US News Web site visitors.  

Friends to handle Reef Bay hike signups

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According to Gerald Singer, author of the St. John Beach Guide, the Reef Bay hike is one of the 10 best in the Caribbean.  

If you want to go on the hike, there's been a change. You now sign up with the island's Friends of the Park, not the National Park Service. You go to the Friends of the Park's store on the first floor at Mongoose Shopping Center and make your reservation.  You pay $30.  The fee is for transportation from Cruz Bay, by taxi, out to the start of the hike's trail, and the boat ride back along the south shore of the island.

"The problem was that there were a large number of no-shows for the hike," said  Joe Kessler, president of the Friends.  "There were generally many empty places, depriving folks who wanted top go."  Furthermore, charging up front for transportation makes no-shows less likely, he said.  "Since the Park was not charging for the tyrip and didn't want the hassle of colecting the money, they asked us tp help. In the end we might make a few bucks in the process."

During the winter, the hike, led by a National Park Ranger, is offered Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays, with the taxi leaving Cruz Bay at 9:30 a.m..

The Reef Bay Hike is a 2.2 mile downhill walk through a shady and moist forest and past four sugar plantations.  It is best known for the petropglyphs (rock engravings) carved by Taino Indians.  For decades, it has been one of the most popular activities in the Virgin Islands National Park.

Previously reservations for the hike were handled by Park personnel.  

Which St. John beach is the best?

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For decades, Trunk Bay has been the most popular beach on the island. Primarily because it's got a big parking lot, the beach is huge, and cab drivers find it a convenient destination for day tripping and cruise ship visitors.

But despite its heavy use, Trunk Bay is the island's top beach according to the Blue Flag International Jury, an international eco-friendly group.

The Jury has accorded Trunk Bay its Blue Flag designation attesting to its good water quality, safety, and educational value.  Trunk Bay is one of four Virgin Island beaches to get the Flag, designations sought by the Hotel and Tourism Association.  The other three are Lindbergh Bay and Great Bay on St. Thomas and Pelican Cove on St. Croix.

"Beautiful waters and wonderful white sand has made picturesque Trunk Bay one of the most popular beaches on St. John," the Blue Flag award statement said. "Renowned for it's underwater snorkeling trail, Trunk Bay is definitely worth a visit. Six hundred and fifty (650) feet of underwater trails are a highlight for Trunk Bay's visitors."

The program, operated by Denmark's Foundation for Environmental Education, has become so prominent that some tourists search out Blue Flag shores. The Blue Flag works towards sustainable development of beaches and marinas through strict criteria dealing with Water Quality, Environmental Education and Information, Environmental Management, and Safety and Other Services.

Making noise at Maho

A pavilion picnic area, costing nearly $500,000, is being built at Maho Bay beach. (Photos courtesy of Bob Schlesinger of TropicalFocus.com.)

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The money for the work has been raised by fees visitors paid at Trunk Bay as well as those from boaters using the Park's moorings.

The project involves removing some of the old pavilion as well as constructing a new facility, adding a toilet, and a few additional parking spaces at the far end of the beach.

Read moreMaking noise at Maho

St. John campers get a parking perk

OK, gang.  What's the biggest issue in Cruz Bay and the beaches?

All together, now …. it's PARKING!

Well, the National Park Service has used some of that stimulus money or the Trunk Bay admission fees to provide 'reserved' parking spaces for folks staying at Cinnamon Bay.

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The spots were set to be available late last month but, according to one source, signs designating them were just uncovered and visible.

Tropical Focus photographer Bob Schlesinger (www.vibeachwedding.com) sent this photo.

iPhone owners: Beware the BVIs

It's not unusual to see people on the St. John Travel forums (TripAdvisor , Virgin-Islands-On-Line , VI Now) asking about cell phone coverage.  Generally, for AT&T and Verizon, the advice is 'Good luck!' if you're in Coral Bay with either service. Verizon's OK, but AT&T seems best and its VI usage is not roaming.

However, there's something else.

We met a couple who live near Francis Bay, in a beautiful property with a breathtaking view of the BVI's. 

Donna and I were greeted at their front door, then brought onto that great outdoor living area. Our hostess said, "And there's England."  She was pointing at the BVIs.  Little did we know how right she was!

We all went to dinner at Concordia.  While there, I got a text message on my iPhone telling me that my "all-you-can-eat-data-plan" did not include international service and roaming.

Hmmm ….

I got the same message the next day when we were at Lameshur Bay, watching the pelicans and soaking up some sun.  There on the beach, AT&T says, my data plan doesn't include what I'm doing.
So, I figured I'd better solve this. I called AT&T.  

Well, turns out, they think that I'd been to the BVIs.  My iPhone, absent a clean signal out there, had locked on to a BVI service's cell signal.  The only thing I could figure is that when our hostess said, "Welcome to London," she meant it.

So … the moral of the story … I'll be shutting down my phone when I'm on the east end and any further along the north shore than Shipwreck Landing.  And I'll pay ayttention to the carrier name on the ioPhone screen, too, to make sure I don't accdientally use BVI cell service.

But wait, there's more.  While the AT&T bill says I used the BVI service on Saturday evening, Jan 29, the fact is we weren't on the east end then.  We were in Cruz Bay, having a fabulous dinner at La Plancha del Mar.  Who knows what really happened but it's still good advice – when you're in sktechy cell phone coverage on the island, be cautious about the iPhone.

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Lionfish threaten islands’ tourism, fishing

Lionfish Some time ago, there was a living Lionfish on display at Mongoose Junction.

A staffer at the Friends of the Park store, where the fish was kept, said it didn't survive very long despite a voracious appetite.  It died and is now in a jar on a shelf.  Would that hundreds more of the water-borne eating machines have the same fate.

Every day, swimmers and divers are on the lookout for Lionfish in waters around St. John, according to Karl Pytlik, who heads up local Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation (CORE) activities.  If a Lionfish is found, he says dozens of volunteers are prepared to don masks and slippers and try and catch the fish.

According to Pytlik, one Lionfish can eat as many as 20 other fish in a day.

The President of CORE recently called the lionfish "an eating and breeding machine."  Joseph Gulli told an audience at the University of the Virgin Islands a female can lay up to 20,000 eggs at a time, every four days, the St. John Source reported.  

Gulli warned that the appetite of the lionfish, combined with its ability to reproduce, threatens the territory's fishing, tourism and diving industries, which he valued at $400 to $500 million.  "The Lionfish are going to take all of this away."

The Friends store, as well as St. John Spice, has tools available for people to mark spots where they spy a lionfish.  If they make a call to CORE, volunteers can respond and try and catch it.

More rain!, Maho restaurant reopens

Tropical storm Tomas has been shoving some unsettled weather St. John's way, but nothing too much to worry about.  Even though Friday, President Obama declared that Tropical Storm Otto caused enough damage for the federal government to authoriuze the Territory as a disaster area and therefore eligible for low coist financing to make repairs.  In fact, this is the second declaration this year.  The first was in September due to Hurricane Earl.

Jamie wineWell, anyway – while the weather forecast seems to have rain or showers every day, the weekend brought some good news with the reopening of the Pavillion restaurant at Maho.  From the Maho blog: "We spent a bit more time than expected between waiting for the material, getting scaffolding installed, and finally cleaning the entire underside of the roof and all the tables and chairs for the area. But all of the effort put into getting the dining area restored will be very much appreciated this coming season as we enjoy each sunset."

The Maho blog's been quiet for a few weeks, but it did come back to life last week with a detailed post, "Circle of Life: Wine Bottles."  It's essentially a few suggestions about what you can do with a 'dead' wine bottle, in keeping with Maho's environmentally-friendly attitudes. Read it here.