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Controversial Dolphin Exhibit One Step Closer to Construction

Dolphin Discovery
Image source: Dolphin Discovery Tortola

The controversial dolphin encounter program proposed for St. Thomas’ Coral World Ocean Park got one step closer to construction last week.

According to the Virgin Islands Daily News, the Senate granted Coral World an amended lease that would enable it to use a portion of its facility for a dolphin encounter program. Coral World’s next step is to obtain the governor’s approval. If that occurs, the future of the exhibit would then be in the hands of government agencies that reside outside of the territory such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Services.

Plans to create the 70,000-square-foot dolphin encounter exhibit garnered an intense reaction from island residents and visitors when it was announced last year. Many people claimed the attraction was inhumane and that it would negatively impact the dolphins living in captivity, while proponents described it as having the potential to give a “much needed boost” to the territory’s economy.

If approved, six dolphins or less are expected to call the attraction home in the first year, although that number may increase to 10 during subsequent years. The dolphins used in the attraction will be purchased from those already living in captivity, according to Coral World, and will not be taken from the wild.

The attraction is expected to draw an additional 25,000 to 35,000 visitors annually. It is also expected to bring more than $4 million of additional revenue into the territory each year.

Want to hear more from both sides? Check out this short news clip that aired in August 2012 when the park’s plans were first announced:

 

Sights and Sounds: Trunk Bay Overlook

We can’t think of a better way to start the week than to spend some time at the Trunk Bay overlook. Not able to make it over to Trunk today? Well then, we’ll bring it to you. Check it out below:

 

Win a trip to Jost from Sail Safaris

Sail Safaris

Hi everyone, Happy Sunday! We just got a request from Sail Safaris. They asked us to pass along some info about a contest they are holding.

For those of you lucky enough to be on island, this one’s for you!

Here’s the deal:

1. Go over to Sail Safaris’ Facebook page and give it a like. That will automatically enter you in a drawing.

2. The second way to enter is to, again, visit their Facebook page and leave a comment about why you love St. John. (Now that should be pretty easy.)

So what will you win? Well, the lucky winner will receive a two-for-one day trip to Jost Van Dyke. That means that the winner will have the opportunity to purchase two day trip tickets for the price of one. The day trip cost is $140 plus customs fees.

So is it an entirely free contest? No. But does it give you the opportunity for a pretty good deal? Yes. But here’s the last catch: The trip is only valid for Tuesday, like in two days Tuesday. The boat leaves at 8:30 a.m. and will return at 4 p.m. I don’t know about you, but I always love a good trip over to Jost.

Want to enter? Click here to visit Sail Safaris’ Facebook page. The winner will be announced on Monday.

 

Panoramic Views Abound at Casa Luna – Special Winter Pricing Available

Advertorial

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.

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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

Advertorial
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.