Panoramic Views Abound at Casa Luna – Special Winter Pricing Available


Casa Luna, Managed by Island Getaways
Casa Luna, Managed by Island Getaways

Like many of you, we’re always looking to find the villa with the best view on the island. Casa Luna, nestled high up in the Carolina Ridge neighborhood, is a definite contender as it has expansive, panoramic views of Jost Van Dyke, Norman Island, Coral Bay and beyond. And the best part is that Island Getaways, its villa management company, is currently running specials for October and November, in addition to offering special winter pricing.

Click here to learn more about Casa Luna on Island Getaway’s Featured Business page.



Scuba-ing with Cruz Bay Watersports

Scuba Tanks

So as we mentioned Monday, we spent a few days over at the Westin last week. While we were there, we decided to try out some of its on-site watersports, specifically its scuba excursion. We had such a great time that we wanted to share it with all of you.

First, if you are interested in trying scuba, you have two options – You can either complete a certification course or sign up for a “discover” class. The discover option allows you to try scuba alongside an instructor after a relatively quick on-site training whereas certification means just that – you work to become a certified scuba diver.

Cruz Bay Watersports has an on-site presence at the Westin and runs all of its dive trips. The excursion I took was a two-dive trip to Lovango Cay. (Side note: I am working toward my certification so I can get more lovely underwater images to share with all of you.) Tony was my instructor and Richard was the captain. Both were wonderful … and funny.

Scuba can be a bit intimidating at first. I definitely had to take a few minutes to calm myself, but the payoff was well worth it. Rather than skirting across the top of the water as I have countless times while snorkeling, I was able to get a closeup view of the beautiful corals and fish. I even came across a few surprises. Take a look for yourself:

Fish in Sand
Any idea what type of fish this is?
Coral Feather Duster
A small feather duster amid beautiful coral.
A blue tang, I believe, amid a sea of corals.
A blue tang, I believe, amid a sea of corals.

And this one is for all of the turtle lovers out there. (Be forewarned: A professional videographer, I am not.)

You can learn more about Cruz Bay Watersports and its scuba offerings by visiting its website here.


Virgin Fire Slated to Open Next Week; Menu Items Released

Virgin Fire

Virgin Fire, the new restaurant created by Michael and Barbie Barry of the Sun Dog Cafe, is looking to open its doors next Monday if all goes as planned.

“We’re in Labor!” the Barrys exclaimed in a message posted to Sun Dog Cafe’s Facebook page Tuesday night. “Really, we are bustin’ butt to open Virgin Fire (formerly La Plancha, Paradiso). If the furniture clears customs, it’s a Monday ‘preview’ opening. Preview means some of the stuff isn’t here yet, but the menu is!”

And from what we’ve seen, the menu looks great. It includes a variety of dishes and flavors at a reasonable price. The following list is going into Virgin Fire’s test kitchen; however not all items will make the final menu. (Please click the image to enlarge it.)

Virgin Fire Appetizers
Virgin Fire Soups Salads and Sides
Virgin Fire Small Plates
Virgin Fire Full Plates

In addition to what looks to be a great menu, Virgin Fire is also offering some great amenities to its guests. For starters, it plans to offer call ahead seating which is very convenient. Parties can call the restaurant any day after 4 p.m. and place their name on the waiting list. This can significantly reduce or eliminate wait times. Virgin Fire also plans to take reservations for parties of five or more.

Another great feature Virgin Fire will offer is a “Frequent Fire VIP” card. (This feature, however, is for residents of the US Virgin Islands only.) Frequent Fire VIPs will receive one point per dollar spent, and will receive gift certificates when certain limits are reached. For example, if the VIP spends $300, he/she will receive a $20 gift card.

Virgin Fire is located on the upper level in Mongoose Junction near the Sun Dog Cafe. It will be open daily from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. You can contact them by calling (340) 777-FIRE or by visiting their website at www.virginfirevi.com


Grande Bay: Top of Travelers’ Lists

Grande Bay Exterior

Travelers truly seem to be enjoying Grande Bay Resort and Residences as indicated in several new reviews on TripAdvisor.com. Luxury. Great location. Paradise in Cruz Bay. These are just a few ways travelers are describing the waterfront resort.

Click here to visit Grande Bay’s Featured Business page where you can read more about what travelers have to say.


Westin Construction Update

westin 5
Beachside room construction as seen from Great Cruz Bay

We’ve gotten a lot of emails about the construction that’s been going on at the Westin. Well, we wanted to see what it was like firsthand, so we checked ourselves in for a couple of nights last week. (This was purely for investigative journalism purposes and had nothing to do with room service opportunities. Really, we swear.)

Our thoughts – it wasn’t that bad. But on the other hand, we can see why people might be frustrated if they waited quite some time to set out on a perfect St. John vacation only to realize that a large part of the resort is under construction. Here are the details:

Construction started last August and is expected to continue through January 2014. Buildings 10 through 16 are being extensively renovated. These are the beachside and poolside rooms. This area is currently surrounded by green fencing and is closed off from the public. When we were on site, they were re-roofing some of these buildings in addition to other work.

The pool and Snorkels Bar & Grill closed last month for renovations and this area is also cordoned off with green fencing. As a result, the Westin set up a few tents on the beach in which staff were on hand to dole out towels and such. There was also a makeshift Snorkels “bar” where guests could purchase beer or a rum punch. The staff members were very nice and very helpful, and all of the guests we encountered seemed happy despite the inconvenience.

The bright side regarding the pool renovation is that it is slated to be completed a bit sooner than the room renovation. According to Westin staff, it is on schedule to reopen December 18.

So what about the noise? Obviously with any renovation, noise can become problematic. Just how problematic that is depends on the person. Yes, there was a bit of banging and what sounded like jackhammering from time to time, but in our opinion, it was not horrible. But again, it really depends on the person.

Here are a few more images to give you a better idea of the current state of the renovations:

westin 4
Beachside room construction as seen from Building 21
Westin 1
Tents set up on the beach adjacent to the pool area
Close up of beachside room construction
Close up of beachside room construction
Pool renovation
Pool deck renovation
Westin Resort Map
Westin resort map

If you have any specific questions on the renovations, you can contact the Westin directly by clicking this link.


VIVA! Villas is Raffling Off a Free Villa Stay

Coral Oasis, a three bedroom home in Mamey Peak
Coral Oasis, a three bedroom home in Mamey Peak

VIVA! Villas started an online contest today and we thought you’d all want to know about it. It’s a Facebook contest, which means you need to have a Facebook login to enter.

Here’s how it works:

Go over to the contest page and give VIVA! Villa’s Facebook page a “like.” You will then be able to click a button to enter the contest and your name will automatically be entered into a drawing. One lucky winner will be chosen, and he or she will receive a free seven-night stay at Coral Oasis, a three bedroom home in Mamey Peak. The contest runs through April 30, 2014. The winner must use his or her winning week between August 2014 and November 2014.

Coral Oasis is a very nice property with beautiful views of Coral Bay and beyond. Click here to learn more about the property.

Click here to be brought to the contest page.


Now Everything’s Really Back in Business

Visitors Center is Open

After 16 long days, the government shutdown has finally ended. As many of you may know, St. John received an early reprieve on October 7 when it learned it could reopen its beaches, as well as the trails that lead to the beaches. But despite that reprieve, parts of St. John continued to be affected. Now we can fully get back to business.

We’re pleased to report that the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center was open Thursday morning and the staff members were very happy to be back to work. Annaberg remained closed as of late morning but that too has been given the go ahead to reopen, as will the remaining trails and facilities throughout the National Park.

Annaberg on Thursday morning
Annaberg was still closed as of late Thursday morning, although it’s been given the go ahead to reopen.

Speaking of trails, the ranger-led Reef Bay Hike will resume on Monday. While the trail was reopened October 7, rangers were not allowed to lead the hikes during the shutdown. This not only affected hikers, but it also negatively impacted the Sadie Sea, the vessel that picks up guests from the guided hike and returns them to Cruz Bay.

Image provided by Friends of Virgin Islands National Park
Image provided by Friends of Virgin Islands National Park

So along the lines of National Park news, we’d like to mention one of the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park very cool, upcoming events – Paddle in the Park.

Paddle in the Park is a standup paddleboard race that take place on Sunday, November 3. There will be two courses. The Open Course will be a roughly three-mile race from Maho Beach to Whistling Cay and back. The Elite Course will also begin at Maho Beach and will head out to Whistling Cay, then to and around Cinnamon Cay, back behind Whistling Cay and then back to Maho Beach. The Elite Course is approximately 5.5 miles.

The cost to register is $60 for adults and $30 for those ages 18 years and under. The cutoff date for these prices is November 1. A late registration option will be available on November 2 at the Friends of the Park Store until 2 p.m. The cost that day will be $80 for adults and $50 for people ages 18 and under.

Click here to learn more about the race and for information on how to register.


Painting and Photography Workshops Starting Soon

One of Steve Simonsen's beautiful images.
One of Steve Simonsen’s beautiful images.

Looking to capture all of the beauty the island has to offer, but unsure of how to use that camera of yours? Want to create one of those beautiful hand-painted shirts you’ve seen on so many people across the island? Well you’re in luck as two of the island’s most talented residents have released their upcoming workshop schedules.

Renowned photographer Steve Simonsen will teach the basics of photography while artist Sloop Jones will teach painting techniques in which participants can leave with their own wearable piece of art.

Steve Simonsen

Steve’s photography workshops kick off this week. Here are the descriptions of what he has to offer:

Tropical Light Photography: 

With the advent of digital cameras, photography has never been easier or more exciting. This workshop covers the principles of photography, lighting, focus and composition and explains in an easy to understand hands on fashion, most of the buttons, dials and menus found on today’s sophisticated point and shoot cameras.

No previous knowledge or experience required. Bring camera, manual, batteries, space on your memory card and water.

Beyond the Basics:

If you own an advanced digital camera that has manual settings and/or a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses, this class is for you. This workshop goes more in depth into the functions, features and menu options and helps push your photography to the next level to better acquaint you with the sophisticated features found in today’s high end digital cameras. This course will help sharpen any photographer’s skill and acquaintance with their camera system helping to unleash more of your creative vision.

For the intermediate to advanced digital camera owner.

Snorkel Photography: 

An introduction to underwater photography for the point and shoot waterproof camera, or a point and shoot in a watertight housing. This course introduces the principles of underwater photography including available light, artificial light, custom white balance, color absorption, improving sharpness, color saturation and creative camera angles.

For the snorkeler who owns their own underwater camera, this course will help you get sharper and more colorful images from your camera system.

Underwater Photography:

More comprehensive look at the principles of underwater photography including the use of digital SLR’s in underwater housings with underwater flashes. This course is for certified scuba divers. Covers, macro, wide angle, available light, flash photography and close focus wide angle.

Better suited to those photographers that already use external underwater flashes.

If you are interested in attending any of these workshops or if you would like more information on pricing and schedules, call Steve or his wife Janet at  (340) 775-4485 or (340) 690-8986. You can also email Janet at [email protected]

Click here to learn more about Steve and to see some of his stunning photography.

Sloop Jones

sloop jones

Beginning October 22 and continuing through Aug. 5, 2014, Sloop will offer workshops on Tuesday and Friday mornings. (Fridays will be reserved for groups of four or more.) Guests will learn that blue and yellow doesn’t always make green, according to Sloop, and they will leave with a beautiful shirt of art. Workshops are three hours long and begin at 9:30 a.m. The cost is $100 per painter and space is limited.

Click here to learn more about Sloop Jones and to sign up for one of these incredible workshops.



Maho Bay’s Pepper Sails Again

Pepper the sailboat

After 14 years of sailing out of Maho Bay Camps, Pepper – the little, yellow wooden boat fashioned after an 1860s Island Sloop – is returning back to its roots.  The boat will now sail from the Coral Bay dock, which is mere feet from where it was originally built.

“Pepper was built behind Skinny’s, so we brought her back over here,” said Lance Davies, who now owns Pepper with his wife Kim Sammartano. “We are originating right from the dingy dock, right behind the fire station, right behind Skinny’s. That’s where all the sails will start.”

Lance and Kim
Kim and Lance, owners of Pepper

Lance and Kim purchased Pepper after chatting with its former owners at Maho Bay Camps’ employee going away party. Kim worked at the campground for one season where she was affectionately known as the “beach cafe girl.”

“Kim knew the owners of Pepper through Maho, and at the going away party, they started having a conversation about us buying it. So, we did,” said Lance, who worked as a divemaster at Caneel Bay’s dive shop.

“It was a bittersweet moment,” Kim added. “I wanted to keep something from Maho. I wanted to keep it going.”

Pepper will remain connected to Maho Bay Camps as it will serve as Concordia’s primary sailing charter. (Concordia was Maho’s sister property prior to its closure last May.)

In addition to providing charters to Concordia’s guests, Lance and Kim will also book their own trips. The couple plans to stay in local waters in and around the Coral Bay area. They also plan to intertwine some of Pepper’s history into each charter.

“Pepper was hand built behind Skinny’s in 1998, and is modeled after an 1860s Island Sloop, so she has a bit of a history,” Kim said. “And many people know all about her, some even more than us. We plan to use that history aspect, along with the history of Coral Bay in our daily routine. We hope it’ll be a lot different from all the other charters.”

Pepper can be reserved for either a full day or a sunset sail. Full day charters leave Coral Bay at 9:30 a.m. and will return at approximately 2:30 p.m. The full-day charter costs $95 per person and includes one snorkel stop and a gourmet lunch. Snorkel locations may include Le Duck, Pelican Rock or Round Bay. Next year, Lance and Kim hope to be able to bring guests into Hurricane Hole as well. (Boaters need to obtain a permit before being able to sail into Hurricane Hole. Permits are currently unavailable.) Pepper also offers sunset sails complete with hors d’oeuvres for $65 a person. The boat can accommodate up to six guests and they do combine groups if necessary.

And in an homage to Maho, Kim made sure to point out that there will be no waste stemming from Pepper’s sails.

“We’re really eco-conscience,” Kim said. “There will be no disposable cups or straws. Everything will be reusable. We want to keep the island as beautiful as possible.”

If you’d like to learn more about Pepper, Lance or Kim, you can check out there website Sail Pepper by clicking here. You can also check them out on Facebook by clicking here.


Just Play Brings Fun to Cruz Bay

Just Play signage

Hundreds of kids descended onto Winston Wells Field Monday morning to take part in the fifth annual Just Play event. The event, organized by Dean Dowling, founder of Using Sport for Social Change, was geared toward children ages five through 17 and featured a variety of activities including basketball, tennis, conga lines and more.

We took a quick video of some of yesterday’s fun. Check it out below:

This year’s festivities kicked off Saturday night with a fundraising event over at The Beach Bar. Inner Visions played the event and a good amount of money was raised to help the kids. While on island, Dean will also provide one backpack filled with school supplies to each child attending Julius E. Sprauve School. He is doing so in conjunction with the Global Backpack Project.