St. John – getting there is not half the fun

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St. John may not be able to profit from the next big trend in tourism – "green vacationing."  It’s got the beaches, eco-tours, and an unspoiled environment.  But it also has hassles today’s travelers will not put up with. The biggest obstacle, says a nationally known travel industry consultant, is getting to the island.

"It’s all about facilitation," explained Berkeley Young of Randall Travel Marketing.  "From the time people get off the plane in St. Thomas at the airport, they are frustrated.

"There’s no proper greeting. They’re given a urine cup’s portion of punch. There’s nobody asking, ‘How can we help you?’  They have to fight taxicabs.  It’s a horrible experience," Young said.

While veteran travelers will endure the challenges of getting to Red Hook, onto a ferry, and finding their villa or resort greeter in Cruz Bay, Young warns many will not.  “They get on island and they’re irritated and angry.”

"When people come to these islands, they are desperate for escape.  They want someone to do it all for them," Young said. He warns that cruise ships are strong competition for tourists’ dollars. The industry has made it simple.  You make a phone call, they’ll book your airline ticket, greet you at the airport, they’ll handle your bags, put them in your cabin.

He urged the island’s Tourism Commissioner to work with hotels, restaurants, and villa managers to work together to improve the experience for travelers.

How do you think St. John could be more accommodating to visitors?  Offer some advice here.

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Listen to the first part of our conversation with travel consultant Berkeley Young.

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39 thoughts on “St. John – getting there is not half the fun”

  1. I believe that St. John handles travelers very well. We’ve been to St. John three years in a row, and we find the ferry people, villa greaters, and taxi cab drivers to be very accomodating. It’s St. Thomas that we truly hate. The taxi drivers are OK, but the ferry experience at the St. Thomas end is awful!!! On our first trip we didn’t even know where to buy tickets for the ferry once we got dropped off at Red Hook. I guess it’s because these people know that we’re not going to be spending much money there so they don’t care how courteous or efficient they are. Because we love St. John so much, we endure the pain of the St. Thomas experience, but it’s not fun.

  2. The 6 of us traveled to St. John, for the first time, last October and found the people and the island fantastic…I agree the best thing you have going for your island are it’s beaches, it’s views, it’s food and the really friendly people on the island.
    But, getting there and/or trying to figure out how to get there can be a challenge…I happen to be very curious fellow and found out as much as I good by actually e-mailing and talking to people on the phone about what to expect before I even set foot on the island…and it helped alot…but if the St, John’s tourist group, hotels, restaurants, shops, bars and villa agencies could get together and come up with some easier way to get tourists met at the airport and “really” help get them thru the confusion that abounds there it would be a great thing…have an easily seen booth set up to greet tourists that would be traveling to the island and give them the information they need right after they get off the plane…help them find a good cab and help them get to Red Hook or the other ferry on time to make the connections…and…definitely have the area around Cruz Bay dock area set up to receive people and to have someone there that can help them get to there hotel or villa quickly with as little “stress” as possible….by-the-way…We will be back…I wouldn’t miss going to the island again…love the people and the land.

  3. I think that the majority of people who live or visit St John want St John and its somewhat difficult accessability to remain the same. Why would you want airports, cruise ships, traffic, crowded beaches, ect, ect, ect? I think the priority should be to KEEP St John from turning into another St Thomas/St Croix.

  4. I agree with John’s comment.. part of what makes St. John great is that sense of being “out of the way” and “off the beaten path”. Hardly “out of the way” if it’s super easy to get to.
    There are other travel trends aside from “green” .. two that are opposite to each other – pampered travel (spas etc) and adventure travel (hiking, kayaking) which lines up more with the “green” travelers. Difficulty in getting there appeals to the adventure seeking traveler. So I’d surmise that the challenges of getting there are a positive not a negative for that traveler. At the same time we have “pamper” travelers coming for the palatial villas and luxury resorts who don’t want any adventures getting there. So we have a mix of green/adventure folks and pamper folks. I wonder which the tourist czars will decide to cater to?

  5. Getting there is part of the reason that the “reward” once you arrive is so unique and quaint. I’ve personally never thought getting there is a hassle at all. As far as I’m concerned if you can’t handle the quaint experience of the short easy trip from the airport to Cruz Bay then don’t go. Some people will always find something to complain about regardless. The less of that type of person that goes to this unspoiled island paradise the better. If you want full service and no hassles, then by all means go on a cruise and leave St john for those that appreciate and love it for what it is.

  6. Please do not change the way we navigate to St. John – it’s part of the charm…..if one can’t figure it out – go elsewhere where you can be waited on and coddled. People are so spolied today. If one cannot see the real beauty in St. John one does not deserve to be there. I bet these same people bring a ton of luggae filled with lotsa clothes too!!!!

  7. I agree that St Thomas is the root of the problem. The rental car programs/pickups are a disaster, the van/shuttle pickups are traffic jams. They need to reconstruct the airport entrance and exit. One you get out of there (the airport and downtown area of Charotte Amalie and past the “customer no service” area of Red Hook) it is not a bother –in fact, an enjoyable experience.
    The airport should use Kona Hawaii airport as their model – very convenient getting in and out.

  8. Please to the powers that be – nothing should be changed about how to get to STJ. Not a thing. But I do understand being a stranger in a strange land. How about some STJ volunteers in obvious “greeter” shirts to direct you to baggage claim, more info, about how to get a taxi, where is Red Hook, the town ferry, maps, just a little “you are not alone” assurance? We all know what to do but not everyone is so lucky.

  9. Part of the experience of traveling to St. John is the difference between travel there and, let’s say, NYC. Not a problem in my book. Tropical means take it a little easy. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I love the taxi ride across St. T to the Red Hook Ferry. People who can deal with this might as well stay in a Miami resort.

  10. Please don’t change a thing. I agree with the others, if it’s too much of a hassle, then, for God’s sake, go somewhere else. And if you miss the ferry, go have a cool beer or two, and wait for the next one. I wouldn’t trade the experience of getting to St. John for anything. Maybe it will keep the complainers on their cruise ships and off St. John!

  11. First of all, the Westin does a fabulous job of taking care of its guests from the moment they get off the plane in St. Thomas. As for people thinking it’s a hassle to get to St. John, I say good!! That means fewer spoiled-rotten, lazy-ass tourists to ruin my paradise!

  12. St. Thomas isn’t all that bad a transition. Considering there are worse places to travel to, and through!! and I think that the beauty of St. John is the inability to be overwhelmed or inundated with mass transit. That’s the reason I keep coming! To get away from all the hassle of the big city hustle. It would kill the whole ambiance & relaxed atmosphere of the Island. If anything, maybe add a heliport on some remote part of the Island, so as not to cause a noise issue, for those who simply CAN’T deal with the wait!!(because a helicopter flight’s not for the everyday traveler’s pocketbook mind you!)St. John’s one of a kind! As the saying goes! Don’t fix it, if it aint broke! OK maybe add a punch stand, with jumbo punch drinks on arrival Dockside in Cruz Bay!!

  13. There’s gotta be something wrong with anyone who “arrives on St. John irritated and angry”. If you don’t love that ferry ride where the cares of the mainland roll off your back, the wind cleansing the stress away as you anticipate the drowsey relaxed island experience, then you’re probably headed to the wrong place.

  14. My wife and another couple have been coming to STJ for 8+ years and renting a house. During that time ther have been no improvements to the St Thomas transfer we can see. If anything, it has gotten worse with the new ferry porter system. We think the island has to make some real choices about its future:
    Parking in cruz bay?
    Welcome the cruise ships $, or have they done that already?
    An infrastructure that supports
    tourism in a consumer friendly
    manner?
    Do the locals really want
    tourism?Or do they Only want the
    tourist dollar?
    Can they compete with the BVI
    BWI for services?
    Is the worst part of getting to
    STJ really the ferry? Is it
    worth the trip in 2008?

  15. I have been to St. John many times over the past 10 years. We endure the hassle of St. Thomas (St Trauma ) only because we love St. John. The airport is inflicts plenty of stress to a long day of travel. Baggage claim is always crowded, and porters can be quite rude if you turn them down. The taxi system also seems to involve much confusion and yelling. Then you arrive at Red Hook with more porters trying to grab your bag before you get out of the taxi. I’ve had taxi drivers quote one price at the airport and then try to extract more money when arriving at Red Hook (last June). I really don’t relax and chill out until I am on board the ferry. Still–we are willing to continue to subject ourselves as often as we can afford to get away. St. John is worth the trip, and the pain fades quickly when you settle on the shores of St. John.

  16. I am trying something different this year, instead of using a taxi to get to Red Hook we will be renting a Jeep right at the airport. I figure that this will cut on the transport headaches to and from St John . I have checked with Budget and they do allow their Jeeps off the Island. Hopefully this will cut down on the transfer headaches. Last time I was on St Thomas we used the taxis. So lets try this.

  17. Some people need to taken by the hand and lead around, there’s no problem. I go every year, just go with the flow . No problem Mon.

  18. A trip to St. John requires a little research, you must rent a 4 wheel drive veh., and get to the island as early as reasonable (most villas are not ready until 1pm). A good tip to the villa rep. will allow you to stop and do a quick shop to provision, get to the villa, load up the fridge and hit the beach – Now you are getting some sun and don’t care about the baggage handler or cabbie in St. somewhere. No worries, no complaints. any more construction would make Joni Mitchell’s words come true all over again ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’

  19. We went to St. John for the first time last year and it was a little confusing but we found our way. We are going back this year and are looking forward to being seasoned St. John Travelers. I enjoyed the St. Thomas taxi ride but found the Ferry to be the problem. The baggage handlers were a little scary and one was very very drunk. Other then that, I hope they don’t change a thing.

  20. The reason why st john is so great is precisely because it is difficult to get to. Make it easier and cheaper and watch what happens…”call some place paradise…and you can kiss it good-by” don henley

  21. Don’t change a thing! If people can’t manage to find their way to STJ, they should go somewhere else. The charm and appeal of the island is its casual, relaxed, and UNDEVELOPED nature. IMHO STJ is not the place to go if you need to be lead around by the hand; plenty of places in the Caribbean cater to that crowd. Leave STJ for those who enjoy “getting off the beaten path”.

  22. I second the “don’t change a thing” sentiment! Thank god there’s still somewhere in the United States that hasn’t been contaminated with Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, MacDonald’s and generic shopping malls. We LOVE getting off the plane and negotiating our ride to CA. And the 45-minute ferry ride to StJ is the perfect “powering down” time. If you want smooth, sleek, sterile conveniences, stay in the States.

  23. Back in March, our Saturday morning flight out of NH towards StJ was cancelled due to lots of snow 🙁 but we managed to get on another flight the next evening and got to sit IN the cramped commuter jet ON the runway for TWO hours waiting for takeoff clearance from the tower in Newark. Upn arriving in Newark at 1:00 a.m., Monday, we got to stay overnight in a Marriot hotel before making our way BACK to the Newark terminal at 7:00 a.m. for our eventual flight down to STT. Yeah, the delays and hauling our luggage to-and-fro all sucked! BUT, upon disembarking at STT, walking all the way around the terminal and being offered the “traditional” shotglass-sized cup of mediocre rum punch (which BTW is unlike any other international airport I’ve ever been through)…all of our troubles getting there evaporated. I look FORWARD to the taxi hustle and the ferry ride over to StJ. So who cares if the ferry baggage handlers are a little buzzed? Wouldn’t you be? 😉

  24. The taxi service is the WORST anywhere in the world. This must be fixed. The last time we were staying at the Ritz on STT the hotel was not allowed to send transportation due to ridiculous rules favoring the rude drivers which precluded anyone else from picking up passengers at the airport.
    To charge for each person in a crowded HOT nonaircondition taxi and then have it veer up the hill for a local stop on the way to the ferry is absurd.

  25. St. John is “the prize” for those of us that work hard enough and do the research required to get from the airport to the island and enjoy your stay. If it were made too easy, the island would be overflowing with self absorbed, uninformed tourists.

  26. I get a natural High just landing in The VI’s and its all good from there , just be nice and they will all be willing to help , most americans are very spolied and want instant service and things there way , they ferry ride was like a vacation in its self it creats alot of down time , Iam a former VI resident and miss all the stuff others are complainging about , will be there soon!!!!

  27. “Difficult to get there” makes one think of adventure travel… bounding across washed out dirt roads in Costa Rica or hiking provisions across a dicey suspension bridge. There is nothing inherently difficult about getting to St John in the “adventure travel” sense. The problem is not remoteness or physical challenge in accessing the island. For goodness sakes, St John and getting there is now more along the Disney World tourism model. But lately, Disney Hell is more like it. The frustration of getting to St John is not about physical difficulty or challenge at all, it is the social nightmare of being “nickel and dime’d” by the villa management company, hassled and ripped off at the ferry docks and airport, or being met with a surly, f-you glare every time you turn around on the island. The problem is that people expect to discover a friendly, happy island where things really are as described in the comments below about “going with the flow” and “slowing down the pace.” But when tourists arrive and receive nothing but surliness, bitterness, and frustration from 90% of everyone they encounter their expectations of a carefree, ferry-access only Caribbean island vacation is blown right out of the water, and of course, they absorb and reflect back the same vibe that they are bombarded with. We found that the only way to enjoy yourself is as they say below… chill out, relax, and allow anyone and everyone to rip you off and bully you into whatever they want to make you pay for.
    Visit St John for yourself and you will see the lunacy of the claims that this place is laid back and carefree. Chill out, slow down, and take you time, like they advise, while walking (or driving) along any road on the island except the North Shore road and you will be a greasy little splatter mark with concrete truck tracks along your back. I simply cannot believe that some of the comments below are opinions of people familiar with the island.
    On another note, St John has an awfully long way to go before it even appears to be a “green vacationing” destination. Are you joking? We have been motivated to visit St John over the past 3 years in part to look for a house to purchase (because we so much loved our visits during the prior 7 years). We have viewed many, many houses being built and houses that were recently built over the past 3 years. Never once have I seen a sediment /silt fence properly deployed on a site. Each and every one of them has been elevated above grade on stilts (like a huge middle finger raised from the builders to the environmental voice of the island) where it can do absolutely nothing to help prevent runoff from the site. We have seen new homes built within 20 feet (not vertical but horizontal distance) of the high tide line. We have snorkeled over the reefs that look like pale, dying geriatric patients. We have seen the clouds of silt brown runoff hovering above the pale reefs. Check out the picture on this website in the article “All your cisterns are full” from April 24th. That amount of runoff is not from any one or two sites. From what we have seen there is absolutely zero motivation on the island to make it a green vacation destination. The island is moving more and more into the Disney World tourism model, except with characters that give children nightmares rather than Mickey Mouse.
    Moreover, do islanders really wonder why the real estate inventory is at an all time high? After our visit this Spring, St John is no longer the place my family and I want to have a vacation home. Next year we will try to find somewhere reminiscent of St John 1999.

  28. I say *&$%# ’em! If they are that stressed out and needy – we don’t want them on St John…………

  29. Personally, I find the trip, as well as all the planning, a great part of the fun of a vacation to St John. Every year my husband and I travel to St John from Seattle. With travel delays it can sometimes take us 24 hours to get there. Before we did carry-on only, our luggage rarely arrived when we did. And you know what? Every minute we spend traveling and all of the hassles are worth it to us just to get to enjoy St John once again.
    The first time we set foot on St John we felt like we were home. Some places do that to you; they steal your heart. I’m afraid that my position is that if you don’t get that feeling on St John, then there are plenty of other places to visit. Don’t try to change what is already paradise for many of us. And the next time I’m relaxing on an uncrowded St John beach, I’ll thank you.

  30. You would think that with all the money the Westin makes off of it’s clientel that they would have a complimentary shuttle to St. John or to Red Hook. It’s the least they could do.

  31. dude you don’t get vacations, huh? Its Americans like you who make it bad for the rest of us. well, you suck and im going to saint john anyway.

  32. We’ve visited the USVI 3 times now: once to St. Croix, and twice to St. John, staying at Caneel Bay and Maho Bay Camps. We look forward to many more visits, as long as St. John REMAINS remote, and a little difficult to get to. Cruz Bay already has wayyyyyy more people/cars than it is capable of handling. Trust everyone posting here who says that the LAST thing St. John needs is to make it easier for more people to reach the island! No no no!!! If tourists get there and can find nothing better to do than to complain about everything, then let them go to another place. Yes, it’s a small hassle to get from St. Thomas to St. John. But it’s worth every minute of it. I only hope and pray that the housing boom STOPS. It is destroying the very thing that makes that island so precious.

  33. PLEASE for the sake of having our beloved island be the last place on earth to get AWAY and do nothing, do NOT hire more consultants and travel professionals to teach how it can be like anywhere else. It was the remote location and the natural green that attracted us when we learned about this treasure in the early seventies. We do not want to copy the “canned vacation”. Our family loves the “inconveniences” and the adventures that come with this beautiful oasis. St. John is truly one of a kind. We hope that folks who want a package for their travel go somewhere other than St. John.

  34. PLEASE for the sake of having our beloved island be the last place on earth to get AWAY and do nothing, do NOT hire more consultants and travel professionals to teach how it can be like anywhere else. It was the remote location and the natural green that attracted us when we learned about this treasure in the early seventies. We do not want to copy the “canned vacation”. Our family loves the “inconveniences” and the adventures that come with this beautiful oasis. St. John is truly one of a kind. We hope that folks who want a package for their travel go somewhere other than St. John.

  35. i too love st john, but why on earth do we have to be treated so bad? im thinking about trying another island next year:(. i couldnt get a lousy cup of coffee at 9a in cinnamon bay because she didnt know how to run the coffee pot? now who is lazy? the chef from cannell came over and made us coffee and was nice. they want our money, but we have to kiss…… where did the old st john go?:(

  36. I have to agree with 99% of the comments posted; getting there is all part of the “ticket price”. Heck, I feel like I’m on vacation the night before the plane takes off to STT…I applaud the ownership aspect of the others who commented, and hope STJ stays as hidden as we all want it to be! I recently watched a show on The Travel Channel about The Virgin Islands,hoping to catch a glimpse of the delicious beaches on STJ, just to find the show was about St.Thomas and St.Croix.I was a little bummed that they didn’t even mention St.John,until I realized(again) how lucky I am to have found such a gem for my yearly vacations.If people don’t like the adventure of getting there,go find yourself the tourist traps that cater to pushy,impatient people.IT’S A VACATION! Why put your energy towards stress?…Beats me.

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