How to make a villa rental even better

Food and a bottle of wine in the refrigerator, Internet access, and someone to drive them home from a night on the town are enough to get most St. John visitors’ vacations off to a good start, according to comments on the Web site over the past week.

In voting over the past week, several hundred people selected from a list of options and decided having the house stocked with food and drink was the best thing they could get (31%), close behind was Internet access (29%), and in third place, that ‘designated driver’ service (14%).  See the poll results here.

Some respondents said there were other things that make their stay at a rental villa comfortable.

"That welcome basket (can be) great!," said Michelle Reen.  A working washer and dryer are important, too.

Making the connection to get to the house is critical, pointed out Vince. He says villa rental companies should, "Make sure ‘greeters’ are carrying a cell phone.  (We) have had instances where we got in a bit later and only get an answering machine (when we call the management company)."

Heather wants a practical introduction to her rental house, hoping for a walk-through of the property. "In the past three trips, we encountered a disconnected hot water heater, closed cistern valves resulting in no water, pumps in need of priming, a tripped circuit breaker, and a broken hot tub, all discovered after the agent left the house."

James Rogers said he requires "complete privacy.  Last year, his girl friend was in the shower and the villa owner "got a free (although most assuredly not intentional) peep show as the shower had a huge curtain-less window in it!!"

There is one thing more, said Debbie. "A lime squeezer … to make those rum punches and other yummy drinks with fresh lime."

Pick the best airline

There are half a dozen ways to fly to St. Thomas from the mainland.  Prices can vary, and so can your experience.  Some airline trips are good, some you don’t want to remember.  If you were asked which is best airline to fly to the island, what would say?

Estate Maho Bay acquired for $19 million

A national nonprofit conservation association announced it’s bought 419 acres on St. John’s South Shore. The land includes the quarter-mile long Maho Bay beach.

(Click on the photo at left for an aerial view of the land.)

The purchase by The Trust for Public Land does not include the Maho Bay Camps, but John Garrison, a field officer for the Trust, told the Virgin Islands Daily News preliminary discussions about a deal are underway.

The land has been purchased from the grandchildren of Harvey Monroe Marsh, who died in the 1960s.  Since then, the Virgin Islands National Park, at least one private buyer, and the Trust have been trying to acquire the parcel.  The Trust said it now owns seven of 11 shares while the Park owns three. 

Each of the Marsh family heirs is retaining six acres and has the right to build two homes.

The Trust  intends to give the land to the Park after it raises $35 million for this and other purchases.  TPL said it will retain 18 acres, away from the beach, and sell the land for ‘limited development’ unless funds can be raised privately to help repay a loan covering the cost of the purchase.  Information about the purchase and contributing can be found on the Trust’s Web site, TPL.org.

Villa Greeters: few tips for you

Three out of four visitors to St. John who participated in our latest poll said they do not offer a tip to the Greeters who meet them at the ferry dock and take them to their rental villas. 

"By the time I get to St. John, I’ve already given every dime I have to US Airways," said Jesse in a comment on the survey.  "We do not think a greeter should get tipped unless they go out of their way to accommodate you, such as stopping for groceries," added Joe P.

Even while a majority of people say they don’t tip Greeters, more than a dozen comments came from people who do.

Read moreVilla Greeters: few tips for you

Tell the villa rental companies what you want!

Let’s face it. Virtually every villa you can rent has a drop-dead view. Most have pools or spas. Cool evening breezes are a dime a dozen. But what you REALLY want is a Plasma TV and Surround Sound, right? Or maybe something else.

In this week’s poll, tell it to the judges – the rental company managers. Choose any of the items below or spell out your own.

Got another suggestion? Click here to offer your two cents. We’ll deliver the results to the Villa folks.  (Initial responses said Net access was important, to I’ve added that to the list.)

Park leader reaches out

The new Superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park is not spending his first days catching up on paperwork.  Instead, Mark Hardgrove has been out and about.  Improving community relations is his number one job, Hardgrove told the St. John Source. As part of his outreach effort, Hardgrove has held "open houses" at the Park’s Visitors Center in Cruz Bay and at the John’s Folly Learning Institute in Cruz Bay.

Hardgrove told the Virgin Islands Daily News that he’s aware the Park has its critics. "I don’t know that there’s tension – I know that there’s history," he said. Some of that controversy has come from Carmen Wesselhoft, the VI’s Senator At Large.  She wants the Park to donate 200 acres to island residents who are unable to buy land to build moderately-priced housing.

Tipping the Villa Greeter

There are a lot of outstretched hands looking for a tip between the St. Thomas airport and the Cruz Bay ferry dock, including baggage porters, taxicab drivers, and ferry luggage loaders. Is the person who greets you on St. John another one?

Greeters are part of the villa rental package. They meet you at the ferry dock, take you to a car rental pickup, and then lead you to your house. The greeter’s service is worth $50. That’s what one villa management
company charges owners when guests arrive off-hours, like late at night
or on Sundays.  If every thing’s on time (on St. John?), it’s about an hour’s work.  So, that cost has been figured into your rental rate. Greeters are paid by the rental company.

Some island visitors wonder, though, "Should I tip the greeter?" 

What do you think? Make a comment here.

Bordeaux, Lucy’s are top Coral Bay picks

Chateau Bordeaux
has been voted the top restaurant in Coral Bay by readers of News of St. John.  Perched high over Coral Bay with an astounding view of East End and the BVIs, its dinner offerings include Mahi Mahi, escargot, lobster tail.  Here’s the menu.  There are no prices on this online version of the menu, so beware – it’s not cheap.  The phone is 340-776-6611.

Second place goes to Miss Lucy’s, whose original owner was also a cab driver, whose island tours were the best! The restaurant is located way outta town along the south shore and is best known for its Sunday brunches with live jazz, Lucy’s is a long-time favorite.  There are a handful of tables on the beach – arrive early (very!) to get one. The phone is 340-693-5244.

Read moreBordeaux, Lucy’s are top Coral Bay picks

Yapta: your new best online friend

About a month ago, I signed up with Yapta.com, a free service which watches airfares and alerts you when they change. 

Its main claim to fame is alerting you when the price of a plane ticket you’ve already bought drops enough that it makes sense for you to rebook the trip and get a refund, even though you’ll have to pay a "change" fee.

So, I was watching Washington/Dulles to St. Thomas for next winter and Yapta e-mailed me when the fare dropped – to a price $100 less than I paid last winter.  I jumped on the deal. 

This weekend, just for grins, I checked Yapta to see where the price is now.  Whoa!  The graphic, at left, tells the story. The price more than doubled in less than a week.

If you haven’t booked for next winter, but perhaps even more importantly, if you already have … it’s a good idea to put Yapta to work for you now.

Everything you wanted to know about the Park

Darren Smith, an internationally-known travel writer, has posted a comprehensive guide to the Virgin Islands National Park on his About.com Web site. It includes information about camping at Cinnamon Bay, a section about the history and geology of the Park, as well as tips on how to volunteer or work for the Park service. "Here you’ll find everything you need to plan your Virgin Islands national park vacation, including directions, maps, photos, lodging, camping, things to do, weather, and more," he writes.

Smith’s cataloging of the Park and its information is decidedly third-person – there’s no sense in his reporting that he’s ever been to the island.

Read moreEverything you wanted to know about the Park