Good Morning Everyone! We just wrapped up a CRAZY busy wave here on St. John! President’s Day week was one for the books and it’s no surprise. With many destinations, including the British Virgin Islands, continuing to keep their borders extremely restricted, flight costs to the territory at an all time low and the USVI topping the lists of travel blogs all over the web as a top destination for 2021, its not surprising that we are seeing a lot of new visitors and repeat travelers doubling down on their time spent here this season.
In the following post, I’ve compiled a list of current Do’s and Do Not’s, including up to date COVID-19 information, as a guideline for newcomers and as a refresher for those of you who have visited religiously over the years.
First, the COVID-19 info:
Have your mask ready. There is a territory wide mandate on masks. Individuals must wear a facial covering in all public spaces including, but not limited to, businesses and restaurants, common areas of hotels and accommodations, streets and sidewalks, open air shopping plazas and all public transportation vessels, taxis and terminals.
In restaurants, you may remove your mask while seated at a table enjoying your meal or drink. If you get up to walk across the establishment for any reason, your face must be covered. VIPD does have the authority to reprimand an establishment OR ticket an individual that is non-compliant. This rule also applies to National Parks Beaches and Trails in areas where physical distance cannot be maintained. So, on the beach, the same as a restaurant, wear your mask until you get to your space. You also need to mask up when approaching a concession area on a beach.
Get a COVID-19 test prior to arrival. The USVI has led the Caribbean in innovative policies regarding welcoming tourism in a safe and efficient manner. If you are traveling to the territory, you must receive a negative COVID-19 test result prior to your arrival in order to enter via the airport or port authority terminals. Both PCR and Rapid tests are accepted.
- All travelers, ages five and older, must take a test within five days of travel to the territory.
- Once you receive your test results, print them out and then upload them to the completed USVI Travel Portal.
- If you have received your vaccinations, you STILL need to wear a mask AND provide negative test results prior to travel.
- You will need to provide the completed travel portal and test results prior to boarding your flight.
When you’re traveling to St. John, you’ll need to be prepared for some slight changes to the ferry and taxi situations. I would advise making some plans for your initial transportation in advance this time around.
Arrange for a private taxi. This isn’t a requirement, but it will make your ride more leisurely and won’t break the bank. Google airport transportation on St. Thomas and you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of options that pop up! During the pandemic, MANY independent taxi drivers have developed private services to get you and your party safely and socially distanced to the ferry terminals. My parents found a private car that took them from Red Hook to the airport for $50 that included luggage, bottled water and cool eucalyptus towelettes. Fancy!
Book your ferry ticket in advance. Both of the people ferries offer online ticket booking services that help you cut down on the wait time at the terminal and stay away from the crowded ticket line. The Crown Bay Ferry can be booked here and the Red Hook Ferry can be booked here. At both of the sites you will also find updated schedules and phone numbers to call if you need assistance!
Book your rental car on St. Thomas. Yes, it is significantly cheaper. But, I doubt a two to three hour wait for the car barge or a wait that results in a missed flight on your way out will make up for that $10 per day. I DO understand that during busy times of year it is difficult to find a rental car on St. John. But, at least check out all of your on island options in advance before booking on St. Thomas. The barges have been rotating out for maintenance issues and Coast Guard inspections and the wait time has not been leisurely. Especially when you’re trying to get to Love City or make it out for a flight!
As I mentioned, it has been EXTREMELY busy on St. John. We went to town last week and went to four different restaurants that were booked absolutely solid through the evening at 6:30 PM. (My fault for not being prepared!) Everyone is very happy about being busy. But, as always, staffing is a huge issue on St. John and everyone is way overworked and TIRED! A lot of restaurants and other businesses are closed one or two days a week to give their staff a break from the bustle. So, here are a couple of pointers to keep you prepared (don’t follow my example, ha!) and keep the hard working gang on island happy and pleasant.
Make a reservation! As mentioned, everyone is busy and running on limited operating hours and days of operations. Be prepared and call your establishment of choice ahead of time to make sure they are open on your day of choice and that they have room for you. Due to limited capacity and booming business, many places that don’t take reservations have begun the use of wait list apps so that you can call ahead to find out the wait time or put yourself on the list for an allotted time.
The LARGEST crowds I have seen in town are those gathered outside of restaurants waiting to get in. Don’t get left out in the “cold” like we did for not being prepared! Call ahead to arrange for you dinner plans and once you’re inside and seated, you’ll have a leisurely and enjoyable meal with plenty of space to call your own 🙂
Expect to be accommodated with a party of more than six people. The VI government still requires that establishments keep their tables to six people or less. If you are traveling with a group of more than six, just split up and reserve two tables when you call ahead. We went to lunch on the boat a few weeks ago with a party of seven and simply reserved a table for five and a table for two. No problem. Please keep in mind that the establishments and their staff are not the ones making the rules, they are simply tasked with enforcing them in order to keep their doors open, avoid fines and remain in the ranks of the employed 🙂
Expect the delays of “Island Time.” We all know that it can be frustrating to plan an evening out for your group only to have your table sat a bit late or your dinner arrive at your table on delay. And simple frustrations paired with an elongated happy hour can turn into an unpleasant situation rather quickly. Do expect the delays of island time when you go out and when things do go according to plan, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Enjoy yourself, the company of your companions and your server and whatever it is you enjoy for your dinner out…No matter the delay!
And, finally, here are a few pointers for all of you first timers out there. With the influx of new tourism traffic, comes a lack of education and awareness about St. John cultural standards, safety issues and protection of the pristine environment of St. John. A lot of people think that Virgin Islanders can be an unfriendly bunch, but that truly is not the case. When I moved here, I thought the SAME thing. But, a bit of recognition and respect for the island and its cultural norms can go a long way and you’ll be making friends in no time!
Be friendly! In the Virgin Islands, it is customary to greet both strangers and friends in passing with “Good Morning,” Good Afternoon,” and “Good Night.” Don’t just dive right in to what you need when you sit down at a restaurant or enter an establishment.
Take a cue from “Island Time” and spare five minutes to chat up your server or store keeper and ask them a bit about themselves. You never know when you might find a common connection! Be kind and generous with gratuity and respectful of the fact that (again) these folks have been overworked and understaffed for months at this point.
Also, DO explore a bit of the VI culture while you’re here. Check out a locally owned food or beverage spot and try a bit of local cuisine. The vendors are back to selling their wares in the park adjacent to the ferry…stop by in support and chat them up. Ask some questions. Read up on a bit of the history of St. John before you arrive to gain a better understanding of cultural sensitivities. Attend a nature walk with Ital Delroy Anthony to learn a bit about the native plants of the island. St. John’s brilliant beaches and backdrops are what beckon us, but take some time to understand her a bit more and she will become all the more interesting and appealing!
Cover up! Obviously the beaches are fair game. But, when you get into a taxi to head into town after a great day in the sun, throw on a shirt or a sundress and make sure your chest and your bottom are under wraps. This will save you the later embarrassment of a stranger asking you to put some clothes on when entering an establishment 🙂
Litter. I know, I know, this seems obvious, but the amount of trash turning up on the beaches right now is a bit disconcerting. Someone even saw a beer bottle being thrown from a taxi cab last week! Most of the beaches have National Park Service trash receptacles but they stop their pick up service at 4PM.
So, be prepared to do right by Mother Nature and bring a trash bag with you to pack your trash out of the park. There are a multitude of public dumpsters around the island of St. John and your taxi driver or accommodation should be able to assist you with locating one. A few other ways to reduce your impact:
- Buy a souvenir cup! As you may know, most places serve their beverages primarily in disposable plastic cups. But, many offer a variety of insulated cups that will keep your drink chilly down to the last sip. And, when you get home, you can relive that last painkiller or margarita over and over again each time you celebrate happy hour 🙂
- Bring a bag. Plastic shopping bags are supposed to be outlawed in the Virgin Islands. But, there is a lack of enforcement and therefore some establishments offer them and some do not. Save yourself the hassle of getting through the check out line, only to find that you have to purchase reusable bags to get your things to the car. Bring some bags from home for your groceries that can double as a beach or souvenir tote.
Respect the reefs. The reefs surrounding St.John are hurting and increased traffic, no matter how respectful, doesn’t help the rapidly developing problems with the coral and health of the other sea life. Don’t touch anything in the underwater world…It’s actually illegal to remove or disturb sea life in its natural habitat in the park waters!
Additionally, Non Reef Safe sunscreen was banned in the territory in March of last year but, again, the enforcement has been a bit lax. However, you won’t find sunscreen containing the toxic three “O’s” (Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Octocrylene) on the shelves of the markets down here. I would recommend purchasing it before you travel so you can find a brand that works best for you. Avoid spray sunscreens on the beach at all times. The New York Times published an in depth article in June that explores some of the safest and most effective sunscreens on the market.
I hope that the above information is helpful to you in planning and enjoying your next trip to St. John. As I mentioned, for many of you, this is St. John 101, but if you have any friends or family traveling for the first time, make sure they have all of the info that they need for a joyous and pleasant stay. We rely on your business, your good vibes and your appreciation of this beautiful place to keep going and keep growing!