Answers to our most commonly asked questions about visiting St. John
Being married here, visiting multiple times a year, and eventually investing in our rental villa over the past 16 years, we’ve seen and heard a lot. Hopefully some of your questions are answered below. If not, please contact us for help.
Post-Hurricane's Irma and Maria
1Is St. John like it was before the storms?
In many ways, it's better. The community is tighter than ever before. The federal, regional, and local governments spent countless hours and dollars pushing for a fast recovery. The National Park beaches and trails were open sooner than anyone thought. But, there are some short-term changes: many palm trees were damaged or destroyed. Some are being replanted, some will grow back. A few of your favorite bars or restaurants might not be fully open, although a great number are. Cinnamon Bay campground is going to take a while to rebuild. Some boats were lost, but many more are back on moorings and ready to take you out on the water for the day (or longer). We've been on island for a week or more every month since August 2017 (we were the last 'guests' at Great Expectations before the storm). September was rough. October was a little better - plenty of food and mostly supplies, but still no power. November got better as downtown got power consistently and cell phone service improved. December saw a major improvement with consistent power on most of the island and a constant flow of goods (and tourists). This winter was great with beautiful weather, open beaches, and blue water.
Traveling to St. John & the Virgin Islands
1Do I need a passport?
While current US government regulations do not require a US passport for travel to or from the US Virgin Islands, however, we recommend you bring a passport (or you will need a certified copy of your birth certificate and, for anyone 18 or older, a driver's license or other government identification with a photograph). You will need to clear US Customs on St. Thomas when you depart which having a passport and, while not necessary, having a passport will facilitate the process and you will need a passport should you wish to visit the nearby British Virgin Islands such as Jost Van Dyke, Tortola or Virgin Gorda.
2Where does one fly into to get to St John?
St Thomas (STT). Many of the major US airlines including American, Delta, United, and JetBlue fly into St Thomas from the states. If planning on staying or visiting the BVI at the beginning or end of your trip, Beef Island (EIS) is an option as well.
OK, I am on St Thomas, how do I get to St John? By ferry is the answer. It is only a 20 minute ride from Red Hook to Cruz Bay on St John and the views are magnificent. Besides the public ferry which runs every hour on the hour until 10pm (as of 2/8/18), think about taking a private water taxi which departs whenever you are ready to go, no fuss, no muss.
4What about money and credit cards?
The US & British Virgin Islands use US currency. Most businesses accept major credit cards although a decent-sized minority do no accept American Express.
5Can we save money by not renting a car or Jeep?
No. A taxi from the Villa to town (Cruz Bay) costs $5 per person. From town to, say, the beach at Trunk Bay, costs another $5.50 per person. That’s say $25 per person round-trip with a tip (if you ever want to see the taxi driver again during your stay), or $100 per day for 4 people – more than the daily cost of a rental car on St. John! Some might ask at this point, “but what if we do not go to one of the US National Park beaches every day?” Our answer is then do not come to St. John; while there are two beaches within walking distance of the Villa, neither comes close to the beauty of the white sand beaches along the north shore of St. John in the US National Park. Still not sure – how’s this: we have never had in over 10 years of business any guest who did not rent vehicles while on St. John. Trust us, rent sufficient vehicles so that everyone in your group can explore one of the world’s greatest islands! We have even arranged discounts for our guests from a number of rental car agencies on St John and St Thomas so you have no excuse!
6Will my smart phone work on St. John
While most cellular phones will work on St John, only AT&T and Sprint have no roaming charges in the US Virgin Islands. But, many of the beaches look directly at the British Virgin Islands and often you will pick up their signals, so we recommend turning off your phone or at least putting it in airport mode while you are at any of the US National Park beaches on the north shore.
St. John Weather
1Year round temperatures
Averaging 80 degrees year round, truly! St John weather is ideal! The generic answer to this generic question is that the weather on St. John is usually the same, day or night, winter spring, summer and fall – LOVELY! Seriously, though, the daytime temperature is always 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, bright sunshine with an occasional fluffy cumulus cloud and, maybe, a quick rain shower in the afternoon (we hope daily to keep our rainwater cisterns full) and often with a spectacular rainbow. The nighttime temps are maybe 10 degrees lower. Really, year-round the weather on St. John is always this nice – except for Hurricane Season which peaks in mid-September! We have more guests during the summer from the south (Florida, Georgia, Texas and the Carolina's) who come to get away from the heat and humidity at home. What makes Great Expectations unique is that the Villa faces east over the Caribbean Sea towards Africa and benefits from the almost constant, cooling, easterly Tradewinds which blow unobstructed through the Villa naturally cooling all the rooms. But, nothing can beat floating in the bathtub-warm-temperature of the Caribbean Sea in the middle of a Northeastern snowstorm during January, February or March!
2Winter ( December - March)
The absolutely sweetest time to visit St John especially if your from one of the many states with chilly winter temperatures and that white stuff call snow! The average temperature is 77 degrees.
3Spring/Summer/Fall (April - November)
The most affordable time to come to St John. You often will find the beaches and restaurants less crowded.
4Are there Hurricanes?
Hurricanes can occur at anytime of the year: The World Weather Travellers Guide has a good article about hurricanes in the Caribbean. Should a hurricane threaten St. John, you would have plenty of warning these days so even if you are on St. John, you would have time to leave should that be necessary. What you do need to be concerned about is the cost should your vacation be delayed or interrupted! We highly recommend to all our guests the purchase of trip interruption/cancellation insurance; in the winter it may be a snow storm at home creating havoc in vacation plans, in the summer it could be the threat of an approaching hurricane, or, heaven forbid, a medical emergency to anyone at anytime! For years our guests have used CSA Travel Insurance which is relatively inexpensive and provides financial protection in the event of a hurricane. CSA also covers the pre-paid costs of staying in a private villa. While hurricane season stretches from June through November, September is usually the most active month around St John
Getting around St. John?
1How far from the Villa is the closest beach?
Great Expectations sits about 100 feet above two beaches within walking distance from the Villa. To the east, accessed by a path directly from the Villa is the beach at Hart Bay which has phenomenal beach combing; all manner, sizes and shape of coral wash up onto the beach during storms from the coral reef which comes right up to the shore. The Villa’s grounds are decorated with the best pieces of coral; guests carry coral back from Hart Bay beach planning to take them home as souvenirs only to discover their suitcases which were packed full on their way down, will not accommodate the coral on their way home! To the west, is the beach at Chocolate Hole harbor which is accessible by foot or by car (you can park right next to the beach). Since it is on the lee (non-windy) side, this beach is perfect for snorkeling; there is a salt pond (created during hurricanes when sea water is blown inland and trapped there after the storm passes) at the north end of the harbor which the government allows the landowners around it to keep a channel dredged out to the sea so all sorts of fish and turtles feed on the crustaceans which grow in the salt pond as they make their way out to the ocean! However, neither of these beaches is as nice as the beautiful white sand beaches of the US National Park located along the northern shore of St. John (about a 10-15 minute drive on paved roads from the Villa).
2How do we get from the Ferry to the Villa?
Our property manager, Kristen Cox, typically arranges to meet you at the ferry when you arrive. She will often drive you to your rental car agency or have them already there to meet you. It is about 5-7 minutes to drive to Great Expectations from Cruz Bay.
3Do I really need a rental car?
The answer is absolutely! St John is a small island but, it has tons of wonderful nooks and crannies to explore. Taxis are available but, they are on island time and not dependable when you might want to go to the beach or to a restaurant at night. so yes, to enjoy St John and have the vacation that you have dreamt about please rent a car. Best of all we have arranged for guests of Great Expectations to get discounts at several of the St John rental car firms.
Planning and Packing
1What don't you provide for your guests?
Not much. We do not supply personal shampoo, toothpaste, body lotion, beer, wine, liquor, coffee, tea or food. There may or may not be any coffee or tea as well as suntan lotion but it depends on the largesse of the previous guests. We do not have a Keurig or other individual cup coffee-maker. We do not supply bottled water (the water from all the Villa faucets is filtered and purified by an EPA-approved system and probably cleaner than your water at home). We do not supply a car for you to use. What else? We do not provide telephones or TVs in the 4 Main Villa bedrooms (but there is a 60 inch Sharp LED HDTV in the Great Room and a smaller TV in the Guest House). We do not provide air-conditioning in the Great Room (all the other rooms are air-conditioned) because it is designed to be open, encouraging the flow of people from outside to inside with tiled patios on both sides (the Great Room does have a Big Ass fan -- seriously that is what it is called). We do not have a piano, billiard or ping-pong tables (we do have lots of outdoor toys including 3 swimming pools, 2 hot tubs and a basketball/tennis court).
2Will we need to bring supplies such as toilet paper, beach towels, etc.?
We have tried to anticipate having waiting for you all the amenities you could possibly need to enjoy your Caribbean vacation. All you definitely need to bring is your spouse, kids (maybe), parents (be nice to them), friends and any well-behaved family. Great Expectations is equipped and stocked with everything else you will need except for your clothes and personal toiletries. We try to have waiting for you plenty of toilet paper, soap, towels (including beach towels), linens, plates, glasses, utensils, pots and pans. We have washers and dryers available for your use with, assuming the previous guests have not used all our supplies up, laundry detergent and dryer sheets. We have dishwashers (with soap), outdoor BBQs (with propane) and a private basketball and tennis court (with basket balls, tennis balls and tennis rackets). We do not provide snorkeling equipment which can be rented by the day or week from one of the dive shops in town which have a much larger variety of sizes, than we could provide (and we have arranged for a discount for our guests). We do have free WiFi (Internet) but you will need to bring your own laptop computer (or there are a number of Internet cafes in-town where you can use their computers for a fee). We also provide complementary Netflix video streaming. Mother Nature will provide plenty of sun and the most gorgeous stars at night!
3What is the Time Zone in the US Virgin Islands?
Atlantic Standard Time. During the spring and summer months we are on the same time as the U.S. East Coast. When the clocks fall back in the autumn and winter, the USVI remains an hour ahead. However, you are on vacation so the unofficial time while on St John is definitely 'island time'!
4What sort of clothes should I pack?
All you need bring with you to St. John is a bathing suit or two, casual clothes, and tennis or "court" sneakers (the acrylic tennis court surface is the same as used at the U.S. Open so, please, no running shoes which leave nasty skid marks). We also recommend you bring snorkeling gear (or you can rent equipment on St. John from Low Key (which offers our guests a 15% discount) for some of the finest snorkeling in the world!
Eating in and Dining Out
1Are chefs available to provide dinners at the Villa if we feel like spoiling ourselves?
Yes, and we have arranged for discounts from some of the best chefs on St. John for guests of Great Expectations.
2What food can we purchase for our dinners that is grown fresh on St. John or caught locally by fishermen?
St. John is a rocky island and these days almost nothing is grown to eat except for Josephine's Greens (available for sale at Starfish). Local fishermen sometimes sell their catch across from the Post Office in town. While it is a sight to watch as they chop the fish with their machetes, the fish are not refrigerated and who knows where or when they caught it! As a small island, currently virtually everything on St. John is imported. When we first started coming to St. John years ago, there was not one market; we had to bring with us what we wanted to cook and eat. Today, the ‘good news’ is that you can purchase all manner of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, poultry and meat in a number of terrific markets on St. John. The ‘bad news’ is that because it is all imported (by plane from the states), everything is very expensive (except for liquor and jewelry, which is duty-free).
3Can we host a dinner at Great Expectations for our friends or family staying elsewhere?
We strongly advise against doing that; Great Expectations, or whatever villa you choose to rent, should be your home for the week and not the site of a party for folks not staying there. We know of no villa on St. John with indoor seating, dining, parking or bathrooms to accommodate comfortably more than the people staying at the villa. Case in point is that with 8 bedrooms, Great Expectations is one of the largest rental vacation villas on St. John and while we have 8 and ½ bathrooms, all the bathrooms except for the half-bath off the Great Room are accessed by going through someone’s bedroom (many villas insist upon renting porta-potties for parties which you definitely do not want to do in the Tropics!). Even if you are okay about lots of people going through your bedroom to use your bathroom, there is the challenge of having sufficient indoor space to accommodate everyone comfortably; while it is romantic to think of a beautiful outdoor dinner with guests sitting around rented round tables with soft candlelight under a starlight sky, even if no one minded spraying themselves with bug repellent, what will you do if a sudden Caribbean rain squall joins your dinner party?
4Are there modern grocery stores on St. John?
There are multiple grocery stores and markets to choose from.
5Where can we get breakfast, lunch and dinner?
There are dozens of great restauarants located in Cruz Bay which is just a 5 minute drive from Great Expectations
Tell me about health care on St John
1Is the Zika Virus in the USVI?
The Zika Virus: please see the USVI Health Department with information on Zika in the Virgin Islands: We also recommend the purchase of Cancel For Any Reason trip insurance from CSA. CSA Travel Protection recommends that anyone who is booking travel and is concerned about the Zika virus should consider a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) travel insurance policy. Not all travel insurance policies are going to cover trip cancellation or trip interruption for pregnant travelers who are canceling their trips to areas affected by the Zika virus, so customers are encouraged to read their policies and talk to a travel insurance expert to be sure they’re getting the coverage they require in this particular instance.
2Is there a hospital on St John?
The Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St John (located on Centerline Road) is closed as of March 2018. The DeCastro Clinic In Cruz Bay provides 24 hour medical care with doctors on call after 6pm. It's located across from the taxi stand. 340-776-6400. The Roy Lester Schneider Hospital is located on St. Thomas. Emergency room service is available 24 hours a day at the hospital. St John is also fortunate to have the all volunteer St John Rescue organization available to assist St John's fire and police. St John Rescue contact 340-776-9110 or 911.
3Are there pharmacies on St John?
Yes, located in the Marketplace is Chelsea Drug Store, a full service pharmacy. You might want to call ahead, 340-776-4888. If you feel you might have a particular need, you might want to call ahead to check on the availability of specific drugs.
Tell me about customs on St John
1What to say when first meeting someone on St John?
"Good day". It is customary on St John to acknowledge a person, whether a shopkeeper or a wait staff person in a restaurant, by saying a simple 'good day' before starting your transaction (like ordering your breakfast or asking for an item in a store). What a lovely custom.
2Can I wear my bathing suit into town and into stores?
NO! Folks who live and work on St John are quite modest. Please cover up when going into stores when on the way to or from your beach day.
3Driving on St John
We drive on the left. Why, well there are a number of different explanations. The US Virgin Islands were owned by Denmark until 1917 so it is not a carry-over from the way they drive in, say, England as may be the reason behind driving on the left in the British Virgin Islands. One story is that it is because of the donkeys (we have lots of wild asses – tourists aside – residing on St. John), but that makes no sense to us. More likely it is the rum! In any case, not to worry, you cannot get going very fast on St. John so except for the forgetful tourist driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, driving on the left is nothing to be concerned about.
4Is there a sales tax on St John
No! This is true for all of the US Virgin Islands. Customs allows a Duty Free Allowance of $1600 when returning to the US as well as being able to bring back five bottles of liquor duty free or six if one is locally produced, like Cruzan Rum. Often you will find good savings in bringing liquor back home.