BVI’s Aug 1997
BVI/WJ Trip Report … Finally!
Chuck and Debbi
British Virgin Islands (BVI) – Trip Report
We flew into Tortola (technically Beef Island), the largest of the BVIs, through San Juan, Puerto Rico. The airport is small so the biggest plane you can fly in on are 40 seater turbo props. The flight from San Juan is 30 minutes tops. It’s great getting a preview of the islands from the air! Our flight was very smooth; only one kid threw up on the way in but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the flight. For those who rather not fly inside “puddle jumpers”, you can fly into St. Thomas and get a ferry into Tortola (I think into Soper’s Hole). We met a number of people who took that route and didn’t hear any complaints. We didn’t want to bother dragging our luggage all around creation so we chose to fly all the way. One thing we did was carry on our luggage on our flight to San Juan. We probably would have lost in in transition as we only had 20-30 minutes to make the connection. Also, we were told that often times people find that there luggage has been “picked through” somewhere along the line.
Once at the airport you’ve got to clear immigration and customs. It is here where you may as well get used the island pace. It won’t matter if you are first through customs. The porter (or someone) will ask you where you are headed and they’ll bring you to a cab. Then you wait (and wait) to see if anyone else is headed to your resort. It appears that cabs are your only choice as I don’t believe you can rent a car from the airport. Our resort, Long Bay, was on the other side of the island which is normally about a 45 minute drive. We took a bit longer due to a flat tire and traffic (no problem Mon!). The cost was $24.
>>>Long Bay Resort<<<
We started our vacation with two nights at Long Bay Resort. We had a room on the beach on the first floor. The room was quite nice and well maintained. The floor had 12 inch ceramic tiles throughout. This is smart on their part as I’d imagine it would be hard to maintain carpeting given all the sand and mildew. There was a 3 paneled sliding glass door leading out to the patio overlooking the vegetation and the beach. Depending on the room, you may or may not easily see the water; it depends on the vegetation. If you want to be sure, get a room on the second floor or try to get one of their units built up on stilts. These have hammocks underneath.
The beach at Long Bay is typical of the beaches in the BVI in terms of width but it is very long. Because of this it was never crowded, maybe even deserted. The best swimming is to the East in front of the pool and Beach Restaurant. There were lots of rocks on the bottom blocking your way in at other parts of the beach and because it was so shallow so far out it was hard to get in the water. The snorkeling wasn’t all that great but for us it was a good spot to get warmed up for the week to come. A great beach to the west of Long Bay is Smuggler’s Cove. It’s about a 10-15 minute bumpy ride over a dirt road. There’s a nice snorkeling trail; sunken cement blocks to follow along the edge of the coral. Also on the beach is an open air shack where you can find cold drinks (soda and beer) and even some souvenirs. It’s all self serve and you pay on your honor. Look out for the shark hanging in front of the refrigerator!
We ate all of our meals at the Beach Restaurant. It was a bit expensive for what we got but we had no complaints on the food. One night they had a buffet ($25/pp) which had a good selection of West Indian food. Since it was getting dark it was a bit scary to taste things that you could hardly see! If you spot what appears to be a pale looking long sausage it’s actually a banana. Try it, you’ll like it. The conch fritters was our favorite item on the menu. One gripe I had everywhere I went was the beer selection. I expected to have the option to sample some brews from the UK, even if they were bottled. All they had at Long Bay were some American domestic brands (like Bud), Heinekin (it is everywhere) and Labbats.
The sun is intense in the Caribbean. This was our first time down here and we were amazed how quickly we heated up after getting out of the water. I’m was lucky having a dark complexion but I was always careful to spread SPF 15. I ended up with a pretty decent tan without making any real effort to just lay out in the sun.
*****The Windjammer Cruise*****
Another beautiful, warm day. The Jammer didn’t take passengers until 5:00 so we had a day to kill. We spent the morning on the beach lounging around and then went off to Soper’s Hole to kill the afternoon. Soper’s in one spot where the weekly sailors (called yachties) come to pick up their sail boat rental for the week. You can feel the excitement of all the people getting ready to go out. It was fun just to sit at Pusser’s bar and watch all of the activity. You may even get to experience a drunken sailor or two at the bar. I overheard one old salt explaining to a couple women how he came upon an alien space ship.
We got to the dock in Roadtown at about 4:30. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to wait long because there isn’t all that much to do in Roadtown on Sunday; a lot of the shops are closed. For those people just arriving to Tortola on Sunday I’d recommend that after you send your luggage off to the ship take a cab to one of the beaches. Cane Garden Bay would be a good choice but you may want to wait (see Monday).
We got the first launch over with about 15-20 other folks at 5:00. We were greeted by a barefoot First Mate Joe when we got to the Flying Cloud. His first words were about how we should safely get off the launch onto the ship; the water was rough! Anyway, once off we were given a rum swizzle and introduction about the ship by activities director Tousala and Purser Lydia. There you can immediately set up you accounts which allows you to sign for everything and also buy your doubloons for drinks. Thus, while on board there is no need to carry around cash. We were then shown to our cabins. We were the lucky souls who got the honeymoon suite. All I can say is “blow me down”! It was just below deck in the stern (back) of the ship. I had expected a basic square room but the shape was governed by the contours of the ship; slanted and curved in the back with a queen size bed on one side and a curved couch on the other side. There was plenty of nooks and crannies to stow our stuff. Included was a small fridge, TV, VCR and cd/cassette/radio box. And, being the honeymoon suite, all the lights were on dimmers. BTW, we never used the TV, VCR etc. but we used the dimmers (har har matey). The other cabins of the ship are nothing like this so you must book way in advance (we booked 18 months early). Of course we were the envy of the passengers and just about everybody was given a tour of our cabin by the end of the week.
The first night we were treated to a buffet for dinner and then a steel drum band for entertainment. Before long there was a conga line going round the deck. Everyone in general was very friendly and relaxed. I don’t know if this standard to expect, but we quite naturally started “hanging” with a few couples right from the beginning. This made a great trip even better.
BTW, the night before they sail is “stowaway” night where for only $45 pp you get your lodging, dinner and breakfast. You can’t come close to that on the island which is probably the reason why all the passengers were on board by the end of the night.
In the morning we were given an opportunity to get a 3-4 hour tour of Tortola including Cane Garden Bay. I think it was only $12 which was reasonable considering what you would pay the cabbies. We opted to take the launch into Roadtown and check out the shops. I’d say a few hours is all you need (my wife may think differently!). It’s worthwhile to check out the Sunny Caribbean Spice shop and shops displaying paintings and stuff from local artists. We picked up mostly stuff for our refrigerator and some spices.
We set sail for Peter’s Island in the early afternoon. The trademark of Windjammer cruises is to play Amazing Grace when they raise the sails. It was amazingly quiet once the sails were up; no one spoke and we all just took it all in. Since Peter Island is only across the channel we tacked back and forth for I think about 3 hours before anchoring. Once there we were allowed to swim off the side of the ship to cool off and prepare for the rum swizzles at snack time.
Dinner that night was blackened mahi-mahi or stuffed pork chops. They had two sittings for dinner and it’s up to you when you want to go. You sit where you want and with who you want (a jab at the big cruise lines!). Being in the BVI we dressed for dinner … in shorts, t-shirt and barefoot. The entertainment that night was hermit crab races. You’ll need some dollar bills and luck for this … don’t pick Tousala’s crab!
We were awakened by some very loud banging early in the morning and, no, it wasn’t coming from the cabin next door. I never did figure it out but I think it was the combination of the engine starting up and weighing the anchor. When I came up on deck we were already under sail on the way to Cooper Island. Make sure you listen to the Captain’s story time to learn the Cooper Island salute; critical information for some interactions you might have on the island later in the day.
The plan for the day was a wet landing onto the beach, snorkel, lunch, snorkel. We jumped out of the launch and accosted the barman, Lance, asking where the best snorkeling was. He pointed us in the opposite direction everyone else was headed … and he was right. Facing the beach he sent us to the right (which I think is south). The snorkeling was fantastic. There was lots of fish and a good amount of coral. Fortunately we had teamed up with another couple (Rod and Sharon) so there was another adventurous soul interested in snorkeling out to a rock sticking out of the water in the distance (called Cistern point?). It was well worth the swim (200-300 yards). The current was a bit rough when we got there so we got tossed around a bit on the rocks. You don’t have that much balance with your feet stuck in a pair of fins! On the way back Rod became “Mom” for a tiny fish that stuck with him for about 200 yards. I got a great picture of it swimming right next to Rod’s mask. We got back just in time for a lunch of burgers and salads on the beach. Next we headed in the other direction for more snorkeling. Pretty good. Rod spied a stingray and
stirred it out from under the sand and we watched it “fly” out over the sea grass. Some folks were lucky enough to observe a sea turtle but not us, unfortunately. While snorkeling around you can’t miss the abundance of conch shells buried in the sand. I kept diving down trying to find one which was uninhabited but to no avail. We returned in time for rum-swizzles at 5:00.
That night the activity was a costume party. You were supposed to dress up as something that begins with P: pirate, prostitute, priest, etc. Debbi (my wife) became a finalist as a pregnant nun (I was a priest). Some people really put a lot of work into it which made it a lot more fun. Captain Max was an androgynous character complete with his toenails painted with the Union Jack! The speakers somehow blew out that night which killed the party a bit but we were exhausted from all of the snorkeling anyway. Dinner that night was on deck which was a pig roast … very good. For those who don’t like the “other” white meat, sorry, I don’t remember what else they offered.
It just got better today. We sailed to Virgin Gorda, a fantastic picturesque island. Make sure you rent a car and tour this island. The views are incredible. We hooked up with two couples and shared the cost of a six passenger jeep (about $75). First we went off to Savanna Bay, my choice for most beautiful beach in the islands. It was almost deserted … Tousala and Lance (from the crew) happened to follow us there. Besides a great beach there was a decent snorkeling trail; don’t miss this spot! Next we drove up over to the other side of the island. It was hard for me to keep an eye on the road with all of the sights! Once we got to the other side of the island we just turned around. There’s lots to see and do over there but we didn’t have the time so we headed towards the Baths. We stopped at Mad Dogs which is right at the mouth of the Baths for a cheap lunch (toasted sandwiches) and drinks; Mad Dogs claims to have the world’s best Pina Coladas. I wouldn’t know, I had a Guinness (see beer rant above) but the others seemed to enjoy them. Next we took our hike to the Baths, about a 300 yard descent down a dirt path. Once there we followed a labyrinth of huge rounded boulders and pools of water. Incredible stuff. You end up at Devil’s bay, the #1 beach according to a few people in our traveling show. We came back through the rocks and then snorkeled around at the Baths which is another great show. Save your strength though because you’ve got to go back up that 300 yard path!
Dinner that night was Cornish hens which was good. You have the option of eating on the island that night (but, no, the ship doesn’t pay for it). We went back to the island to sample the night life. The Bath and Turtle was hopping, and hot (temperature wise). They had a decent island type band and a unique UK ale! Yahoo! Be prepared if you get up to dance because their songs go on and on and on! Being pooped after a full day we caught the 10:00 launch and returned to the ship, ready for bed.
The destination was Jost Van Dyke which was probably the longest sail of the trip. Another great beach at White Bay complete with the Soggy Dollar Bar (dollars are soggy due to all of the wet landings). Here we enjoyed a bit of snorkeling close to shore (saw an octopus) and BBQ ribs for lunch. I was fat, dumb and happy sitting comfortably in the shade sipping on a Tennent’s stout (brewed in Scotland) thinking it couldn’t get any better, BUT, my wife had other ideas. No, it wasn’t anything like finding a deserted beach and etc.! Instead she wanted to go para-sailing. That stuff is not for me. I sort of loose my equilibrium in high places but I figured I’d watch and take pictures. Fortunately Debbi (the wife) wasn’t the first to go. For reasons I still don’t understand, just as the first flyer was going up off the back of the boat the rope snapped! He was in the water quickly but the chute was still dragging him backwards due to a rather strong breeze keeping the chute open. The operator of the boat stayed calm and swung the boat around to collapse the chute and grab the “sailer” out of the water. Believe it or not, after they fixed everything this guy got back on and tried again. Although all went well for him, this was enough to scare Debbi away and she opted out. So, if you are adventurous …
That night we dined on delicious lobster from the local waters at Rudy’s. If you get a chance check this place out and look for our names on one of the ceiling beams in the back of the bar (Debbi & Chuck, WJ June 96). The owner does it all; he cooks, serves and cleans up. Everyone waits at the bar until he calls you in. A buffet table is set up and at the end of the table is Rudy who will serve you your choice of entree (lobster, chicken or fish). After you eat Rudy comes around with a shopping cart clearing off the tables and collecting the money ($20 for lobster dinners, $10 for fish or chicken). After dinner we went to Foxy’s on the other side of the bay. This place is world renowned as one of THE places to be on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately it started to pour rain so we got a launch as soon as there was a break. Good thing we got back on the ship under the tarp at the bar when it suddenly got torrential. To help us get over it, Lance mixed us up some odd concoctions which helped us sleep well that night.
We sailed around the west end of Tortola on to Norman Island. Here Captain Max made an attempt to secure anchor right up close to the caves. The idea was to drop anchor and tie the stern of the ship to a very large rock. Unfortunately the first attempt failed and we were force to abandon any further attempts by a small charter boat, the White Squall. This boat just sailed right in and forced another private boat away from one of the moorings! I failed to convince the Captain to broad side the sucker so we ended up having to anchor farther out. This was fine as they secured a spot near the caves with one of the launches to be used as a base for snorkeling. Apparently the WJ is well known to the fish here because when we got in the water we were surrounded by tons of fish (mostly yellow snappers) waiting for us to feed them. It’s quite a site to watch all these fish gobble up the bread all around you. You can hold the bread in your fingers but be prepared to get nibbled. They might even draw blood! Venturing to the caves was a disappointment as we were soon confronted with the jerks from the White Squall! No, only kidding. Actually, there were tons of tiny jelly fish (someone I talked to said they were sea wasps) which felt like little pin pricks when they touched you. This was NOT a good time so we abandoned water and went back to the ship. Note that some people didn’t even notice them so perhaps we were being too squeamish (I swear I got a rash in a few places though). Anyway, we spent the rest of the day relaxing and swimming off of the ship. Lunch was a buffet on deck including salmon. That night was the Captain’s dinner so I wore shoes. We had prime rib; very good. Later Captain brought out samples of his artwork which were some very nice paintings of the Flying Cloud. He took orders and promised to paint them during his next break (ours arrived as promised). Not much else happened that evening although I the had a feeling of dread knowing that this would soon end.
We hung out on board bidding farewell to those that had planes to catch and places to go. I think it was that morning Danny served his best pastry; a fila/coconut/orange combination that was delicious. One of the passengers gave first mate Joe her pink sequined nightgown for future PPP parties or whatever else Joe might like. With a little coaxing he modeled it for us. This was a great way to perk up all of the gloomy faces contemplating the end of a great vacation (thanks Sharon!).
Fortunately for Debbi and I we still had the rest of the weekend to enjoy paradise. We returned to the Long Bay Resort to a similar room. It was somewhat more elevated than our room earlier in the week so we could easily see the water from the room. Very pretty. We took a cab to Cane Garden Bay to get an up close and personal look. It was a winding ride which cost $30 round trip. After all of the other beaches we saw through the WJ cruise we didn’t find this to be all that impressive. This may be because we approached it from land and it is much more built up than any other spot we had seen. There are bars, restaurants and small hotels from one end to the other. When we saw Cane Garden from a distance on the WJ it looked much prettier. Anyway, it is definitely a favorite spot for the yachties as there were quite a few anchored there. We hired (rented) a two man kayak and paddled around for about an hour. Again, it’s a lot nicer from the water! Don’t get me wrong though. This beach is a winner compared to other spots such as the best the NJ shore has to offer.
We ended this dream of a vacation with a final snorkeling trip to Smuggler’s Cove. A barracuda decided to follow us around giving Deb the heebie-jeebies forcing her out of the water. Having had enough underwater adventure I got out too. It was time to go home.
When we checked in at the airport we were told that our flight was leaving through Gate 1. What a gag! There is only ONE gate. Perhaps I am wrong and the ticket agent said that “your flight leaves through THE gate”. Anyway, going back home through San Juan we were favorably impressed by the way they processed us through. You had to pick up the luggage at the baggage claim you checked in at Tortola. After you clear customs with your luggage there are people to guide you to a conveyor belt where you leave your luggage to get on your flight going home from San Juan. We were supposed to have a 90 minute layover which would have been plenty of time. Unfortunately our flight was 2 hours late in leaving so this wasn’t an issue for us.
There you have it. Without hesitation, WE WILL DO THIS AGAIN!
>>> Debbi’s Helpful Hints <<<
Pack light. Try to carry on all bags.
Bring plenty of suntan lotion (it was reasonably priced aboard on the WJ)
Disposable panoramic cameras worked well.
Underwater camera a must.
We were glad we brought along an inflatable waterproof “sports bag” we bought at Sports Authority; an 8×12 inch bag you can strap on and keep your $$$, etc. safe and dry.
Bring a bunch of single dollar bills for tips, taxis, etc. Don’t count on the cab drivers having change for big bills.
Bring extra beach towels. You use them a lot.
Leave the make-up at home. Everybody looks like a Rasta Man by the end of the week.
Talk to the crew. They are friendly interesting and nice.
Scan AOL for other helpful hints, packing lists, etc. There’s a lot of golden nuggets of info.
Chuck and Debbi Payette – August 1996