Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season

Good Morning All!  I wanted to take a moment today to give you a little insight as to what’s been happening on St. John.  Typically, during this time of year, things are starting to quiet down a bit.  But not this year…Things are still bustling and booming on St. John as we enter the peak months of the 2021 Hurricane Season!  In addition to seeing a ton of people coming and going at the edge of the dock and witnessing the continually overflowing beach parking lots, I have spoken to a couple of restaurant managers and owners this week who reported full capacity numbers each night.  With dining establishments slowly closing their doors for some off season break time and weekend and holiday beach curfews in place, things could get a bit difficult as far as traffic goes.

Ok, so business continues to set some records.  Especially for this time of year!  That’s good right?  Absolutely.  If you’re visiting over the next months or so though, here are some things to pay attention to.

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 1
A busy ferry dock in Cruz Bay

Restaurant closures….When I released the seasonal closure list last month, a lot of new followers were taken aback at the fact that businesses are CLOSING right now while we are so busy on island.  For those of you who have been visiting for years, you know it’s the norm.  But let me give a bit of reasoning behind the closures….

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 2

During the late August and early September times, a lot of restaurants are traditionally closed to give their hard working staff some time to rest, relax and re-group.  Maybe even get off island!  As much as we all love St. John, no matter where you live a break is ALWAYS needed!  This year it is ESPECIALLY necessary!  Like most places, St. John’s service industry has been vastly understaffed.  Most staffers are working multiple jobs to cover the high overhead of living in Love City and, well, when the money is flowing in, it’s hard to say no to more shifts!  But, burnout comes naturally and self care is of the upmost importance.  So, business owners close their doors so that their staff (and they, themselves) can take a little time to get ready for next season!

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 3

Additionally, many places will close for scheduled maintenance during these months, such as replacing the floor, painting, renovating a kitchen, etc.  All of which takes A LOT of “Island Time” to knock out and is nearly impossible to do with guests in the restaurant.   One more vital thing to remember is that it IS hurricane season.  Many of the places that will close through September will lock down and storm prep their establishments prior to closing with the help of their staff.  So, there’s no frantic run around when a storm rolls in…Everything is already prepped and ready!

So, who is closed now?

The Terrace

La Tapa – Exciting updates about the new waterfront location are on the horizon!

Lime Inn

Lovango Resort + Beach Club

Zozo’s at Caneel Bay

Miss Lucy’s closes on August 15

Love City Cafe – Exciting news coming soon about this locally owned Coral Bay breakfast and lunch spot!

Pizza Pi

Pop Up Nights with Vinny

Skinny Legs

Getting a table for lunch or dinner over the past year or so has been a struggle with everything open!  With places starting to close their doors for a few weeks or months and the island still at full capacity, things could get interesting!  It’s all good!  Keep your cool and be flexible.  And maybe try something new!  Here are a few pointers to ensure you have some great dining experiences with limited availabilty:

  • BOOK FINE DINING NOW–  During the month of September, Morgan’s Mango is the ONLY fine dining establishment that will be open for the entire month.  Dave and Jerry’s and Cafe Roma will both be open the first week.  The Terrace will also be open mid-month.  Call them now.  Reserve your tables.
  • Waitlist Seating–  Places like Lovango Rum Bar and the Longboard both have a waitlist option where if you show up in person at opening, you can request a time and a table but you could be looking at a few hours before your table could be ready.  (Again, be flexible!)  My advice, stop at 4pm on your way home from the beach.  Put your name in for a 6-7pm table time and head back to your place to shower up and get ready in between.

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 4

  • Dine outside of normal dinner hours-  Schedule your day a bit differently!  Maybe hit the trail super early, take a nap and have a happy hour style early dinner.  Or hit up early happy hour on your way home from the beach.  Go home and nap before your 8:45PM dinner reservation.
  • Eat local!  Many local cuisine spots are vastly overlooked and deserve more attention!  Go up to Heading East near Susannaberg…They have a great menu of local cuisine that changes daily and an absolutely beautiful shaded area filled with picnic tables.  Just down the street is Smitty’s Island Breeze.  A smaller seating area means more conversation with local characters…try the pate, the goat water on Saturdays and the local juices!  Some other notable spots for eating local for dinner:  The Windmill Bar featuring Miss Leah’s AMAZING rotating selection of local cuisine, Drifter’s Tiki Bar in Cruz Bay and P&P’s By the Sea (You never know when you’ll catch them.  Call ahead and follow on FB).

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 5

Ok, so we have the dining part nailed down, right?  So what about the beaches?  First, I want to address the curfew questions.  As of tomorrow, August 13, there is a curfew in effect for all beaches in the territory on weekends and holidays, effective until September 7.  So, after Labor Day.  Many people write in asking “Outdoor areas are supposed to be the most positive environments…Why put a curfew on the beaches?”  Well, the curfew is not necessarily aimed at the family of four enjoying a beach day.  It IS applicable to that family however.

The beaches are a place of gathering and celebration for residents and locals.  Birthday parities, wakes, family barbeques and many other gatherings take place on the beach when you live here and ESPECIALLY on holiday weekends!  And, unfortunately, gatherings are a big no no right now and the human resources in place to patrol these areas after hours or on the weekends are very limited.  So, if the beaches are cleared out by 4PM, there is no reason to have to stretch those resources into the evening hours to patrol.

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 6
The picnic pavilions at the beaches are popular gathering places for family and friends.

I want to stress here, as I have in the past:  TAKE A TAXI to the beach!  The parking lots are SO full.  You had plans for Oppenheimer?  No parking.  Jumbie?  No parking.  Save yourself the hassle of having to re-route your day by taking a cab to and from the beach.  I would advise asking your rental or accommodations for a taxi recommendation, get their phone number and arrange for pick up at your villa or hotel.  That way, you won’t even have to fight with parking in town.  (That’s a whole different conversation!).  When your cab drops you off at the beach of your choice, arrange for a pick up time in case you don’t have phone service once you’re nestled down in a quiet corner of your favorite beach 🙂

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 7
Not a parking spot to be found at any of the North Shore beaches last weekend!

Although I don’t always respond to comments (that, in and of itself is a full time job!) I am always taking note of what you are saying.  I try pretty hard to float the balance of information between making your vacation GREAT while keeping responsible tourism in mind and keeping the island impact small.  Sometimes I see a comment on Instagram or Facebook that makes me all like “Geez, ok, this person has been actually paying attention to my silly little posts!”  And it kind of gives me some warm fuzzies inside 🙂

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 8

So, shout out to Sherrie who just got MARRIED on St. John!  She has been following along in order to make her wedding plans and just returned from what sounds like a great wedding week on island.  She submitted the following comment on Instagram earlier this week after returning from Love City:

“We just returned yesterday and had a wonderful trip. I’ve never seen the island so full this time of the year. Lines are long. Traffic is heavy. Parking is full. We parked at the Lumbaryard and took a taxi to the beaches which really eliminated the stress of trying to find parking. Restaurants are full. Suggestions if you are going this week. Be patient. But most of all be kind! Everyone is working so hard to accommodate but they are tired and dealing with a lot. Tip well! They deserve it! Restaurants are almost impossible to get in between 7:30-9:00pm. Go early and you won’t have an issue. Shout out to High Tide, Cruz Bay Landing and Woodys who all made sure our large family was taken care of. It’s a great time to cook as a family a few nights at the villa! Again, be kind! Be patient! Help where you can! When going up order food or a drink wear a mask don’t make them ask (our new motto). Airports are busy so the 3 hour suggestion is really not a suggestion this time:) Have fun! Have a painkiller for me! Cheers!”

Thank you Sherrie for your great report and for following along!  I hope that you all have found some helpful guidance for your upcoming trip from myself and Sherrie in the above post 🙂

Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season 9

A busy St. John is STILL a beautiful St. John.  Come.  Enjoy responsibly.  Wear your mask, bring your reef safe sunscreen, drink the painkillers and, above all else, be flexible and be kind!  This “off season” is like none we have ever seen and we too are trying to figure out the navigation of these uncharted COVID waters as we ebb and flow through the ups and downs of it.  Together!

8 thoughts on “Navigating St. John During a Busy Off-Season”

  1. Packing a cooler for our Sept visit. First time. We plan on prepping at least 60% of our meals at our villa. Since we stay out East, we have our fingers crossed that some of our favs will be open (that’s you Esther, darling). Your listing of the local eateries is great! Will jeep for island cuisine!!

  2. We love traveling off season, seems like off season for only the restaurants, may be a thing off the past.
    Still love STJ and our yearly visit. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us

  3. We just returned and also took some frozen foods with us. With the island being so crowded, the grocery stores struggled to keep some shelves filled. We brought some ( of all things) mayo with us this time. Last year it was $12.00 a jar. We also had a lot of packets of condiments so we could take sandwiches to the beach. The lines for food were a mile long. Dont get me wrong, we spent a ton of money there- but we also needed to eat and enjoyed cooking at the villa 5 nights out of necessity. Still love the island and cant wait to get back !

  4. So you traveled with frozen food in a carry on? Just trying to be prepared for our Sept visit. We plan on eating out most of the time but didn’t know if I need to have any frozen prepared food as well.

    • Tanya,

      We have a home on STJ and always travel with a frozen food carry on. Ours is the “under seat” size. We bring steaks, burgers, bacon, chicken breasts, sausage and butter, as someone else shared, all frozen solid.

      We have friends who go down for six months at a time who have a larger cooler that they fill with frozen goods and ship on the plane. They fly on a non-stop flight when they go down, which would be the only way I’d check packed frozen foods.

      Our visits are usually three weeks at a time, so we still buy locally when we are there, but our soft sided cooler pack helps balance out the island’s high costs for groceries. I’ve started throwing a bag of croutons in my suitcase – $1.00 here and $3.50 on STJ, and enough ground coffee to get me through the visit.
      After about three days it seems we’re stopping at Starfish or the St John Market daily for something.

      I used to bring bread, lunchmeat and even tomatoes (in a re-purposed scotch tube) when I came down. Nowadays we try to schedule a STT shopping trip, either after we land and on the way to the barge or in the first few days to stock up. Cost U Less is a great resource.

      Our philosophy is pretty much that when we eat out it’s at lunchtime, and then we stay home for dinner. We do go out a few times each visit, careful to make reservations in advance unless it’s someplace like Skinny’s on Chris Carsel night. Have a great trip and enjoy your time on island.

  5. I mailed a box of non-perishables and condiments to our villa before arriving using the bags of Cheerios as my packing peanuts. In my suitcase I packed liquor, deli meats cheeses and butter. ($4.99/lb at home ($12.00 locally) that coupled with the welcome basket at our villa which contained milk bread and eggs we had breakfast and lunch taken care of for the week.

  6. Just back from 2 weeks in our favorite place and made most of our reservations for dining well in advance-most 3-4 weeks out. The only snafu we had was an unusual night rain the first evening which scuttled our fine dining plans (no under cover seating at all at this place) and could not find a table under cover at 3 different places. A local hostess suggested 420 to Center and we were able to snag bar seats and have great cheeseburgers, fries, potato salad and a tasty shrimp & seaweed appetizer w a few beverages (cash only FYI). Be flexible and, as others have said, be kind. Uncle Joe’s bbq also a good grab n go option. Grocery stores were well stocked (Dolphin near the Westin and Starfish) so should’nt be a problem for Villa dining. Local chefs also available if you book far enough in advance and they bring everything w them and clean up after. A few provisioning companies can also shop & stock for you, as well as offer some dinners for delivery (like a tray of lasagna and salads) & platters (fruit, veg, dips, etc). So many options! Enjoy!

Leave a Comment