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We just finished up a quick visit to the Westin St. John Resort and Villas, so I wanted to share a few thoughts about the hotel and island itself. Our visit was a “vacation run” which basically means it we got a good deal on United to a place we wanted to try out anyway. I don’t usually do “mileage runs” (flights taken just to earn miles), but I do occasionally do “vacation runs” when the airfare is very good to somewhere I want to see. The downside of this type of travel means the trip was very short, so we by no means got to see and do everything on the island, but we at least got a taste of it. In this first post I want to talk about the actual process of getting to the resort in St. John, as it isn’t as simple as landing at the airport and taking a shuttle bus or driving right over in your rental car.
To get to St. John we flew on United from Houston to San Juan and then connected to Cape Air for the last segment to St. Thomas. Cape Air operates in 45 different cities, one of which is San Juan. They operate little Cessna planes out of San Juan to neighboring islands, including St. Thomas. These make regional jets some of us often fly on look huge! These Cessnas only have a handful of seats, and one of those seats is the co-pilot seat – literally! I got to be the “co-pilot” on our flight from San Juan to St. Thomas and wrote about that awesome (and kind of scary) experience here.
You feel pretty much everything in these planes, so if you get motion sickness or similar, then cross your fingers for very good weather as you will feel the clouds. It was pretty fun though, and everyone we encountered at Cape Air was very friendly. Most importantly, the flights were safe and on-time. However, even when you get to St. Thomas, you still have a bit of a journey to get to St. John!
If these little planes just aren’t for you, some airlines, like American, operate flights using larger aircraft from the mainland and cities such as Miami to St. Thomas. Once we landed in St. Thomas we then had to take a taxi from the airport to the ferry that would take us to St. John. Taxis in the islands are not what you would expect from a city like New York City. There are lots of open air truck beds converted to covered seats (isn’t as bad as it sounds), as well as some vans. Do be aware that with the open air taxis, you will want to put small children against the wall that doesn’t have the opening where you get in and out, as they could fall out otherwise.
There are unauthorized taxis and legit taxis. There are not meters, but there are some set prices to/from destinations. I highly recommend settling on a price before getting in – assuming you are in a legit taxi the price should be posted, but they may still try to quote you higher so be clear from the beginning on price. Also, you will often be sharing a taxi with others who are going to the same location, or have stops along the way. This means the taxi many not depart the second you climb, in so build in some extra time. The drive from the airport in St. Thomas to the ferry at Red Hook to St. John was about a 45 minute drive that came to around $30 for the two of us, including tip.
The passenger ferry leaves from St. Thomas to St. John most of the day on the hour, so naturally we got there two minutes after that and had a nice long wait for the next ferry. The ride is $7 each way for non-residents plus $4 for each piece of luggage (purses and small items are free). Children 2-11 are $2 each way, and children under 2 are free. The ferry ride wasn’t bad at all and lasted about 15-20 minutes.
Once you land in St. John there will be taxis with Westin on them that can take you to the resort. The price was about $10-$12 for the two of us from where the ferry docks in St. John to the Westin. Again, there are posted rates for this in the taxis. The Westin always had plenty of taxis, but again, these are shared open-air trucks and not the regular taxi you might be accustomed to. The open-air concept does allow you the opportunity to get some great views of the island as you drive around!
Another option is a private ferry that the Westin operates that will take you from from the airport in St. Thomas to the Westin. I’m sure this service is more convenient, but it is also more expensive at $120 for adult round trip transfers, $90 for children 4-17, and free for children 3 and under. This fee includes baggage handling and return shopping trips to St. Thomas. A one-way fee is $65. The ferry only operate at set times, and those times didn’t work for us on this trip. We also spent a total of about half the cost by using public transportation as opposed the private transfers, but I can see why people would prefer the convenience of the Westin ferry on a vacation. You do need to take a taxi from the airport in St. Thomas to their ferry dock, which is about a 10 minute drive, but otherwise this service seems to be pretty seamless.
We did not rent a car on our short trip, but is seems that many companies at the airport in St. Thomas do allow the car to be taken on the car barge to St. John, but double check before assuming that is okay. You can also rent in St. John, but from what I could tell you have fewer of the national companies in St. John and more local companies. I have heard that loading on the car barge can require some tight maneuvers, and do be aware that you will be driving on the left hand side of the road on both islands, up and down tiny roads that have some pretty steep elevation changes. In other words, this isn’t like driving on big open roads in Texas or Kansas. Be prepared, and absolutely go easy on the rum infused drinks if you think renting a vehicle for your trip is a good idea.
The process of getting to St. John is more complicated than some destinations, but that just makes it that much sweeter once you arrive…I think.