Sep 222013
 

I’m not a big fan of cooking while I’m on vacation.  There, I said it.  I know that many St. John travelers enjoy cooking breakfast, lunch & dinner in their beautiful hillside villas, but not me.  I’m usually too tired from a day of diving and snorkeling, and the last thing I want to do is cook and then clean up.  Plus, a hot stove in a hot, humid climate is not exactly a recipe for environmental comfort.  Due to my vacation cooking aversion, I’ve become pretty familiar with the many awesome eateries in Cruz Bay.  I’m going to tell you about some of my faves.

Rhumblines

This is my favorite dinner spot in Cruz Bay, and it’s the spot I crave most when I set foot on the island.  The eclectic Asian Fusion menu (heavy on the Thai) has a unique Caribbean twist.

Rhumblines menu

Everything I’ve tried here has been delicious, and I’m super picky quite selective when it comes to Asian food. On our server’s recommendation, I recently tried the cracked pepper crusted tuna, which sits on a bed of green seaweed salad.  It was, in a word, phenomenal (and the portion was generous).

Rhumblines Cracked-Pepper Crusted Tuna Appetizer

Rhumblines Cracked-Pepper Crusted Tuna Appetizer

Another favorite is the Pad Thai, which is authentic and awesome.

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Rhumblines is also known for its inventive drink menu, and I’ve found that the drink specials are so good they make you want to go back for more.

 

Margarita Phil’s

Despite my over decade-long history of visiting St. John, I had never tried this quaint Mexican joint until this month.  This is partially because we like to go during the off season, when many restaurants are closed.  But I can’t deny that it is also due to the less than stellar Tripadvisor reviews.  We recently walked in, without high expectations, on the night before they were set to close for the season.  I needed my Mexican fix, and I was determined to get it.

All Smiles at Margarita Phil's

All Smiles at Margarita Phil’s

Just look at us beaming in the photo above.  Do we look like unhappy diners?  I spontaneously developed an urge to send this shot to my beautiful mother with a caption saying, “Look ma!  We went to Cancun instead”, but alas, she knows me better than that.

Margarita Phil’s turned out to be one of the dining highlights of our trip.  I know what you’re thinking, and no, it wasn’t solely due to the near milk jug sized margaritas that were plunked in front of us.  And on a related note, the margaritas were fresh and tasty.  This was not a case of quantity trumping quality.

Margarita

The menu boasts the full offering of tex-mex favorites, and it also has some impressive house specialties. In keeping with the “Cancun” theme, I had the nachos (build em your own way) with shrimp.  For me, shrimp is one of those menu items that often fails to impress, but they were out of my first choice which was crab.  As it turns out, these were the best nachos I’ve had north of the border.  They were skillfully built, layer by layer, and the shrimp was cooked to perfection (it’s easy to ruin shrimp by overcooking it).  Mr. Reeftraveler was similarly impressed with his dish of steak enchiladas, which I would have sampled if I weren’t a vegetarian (who eats some seafood).

Overall, we were really impressed with Margarita Phil’s.  The food was outstanding, and the service was friendly, engaging and professional (Jill & Ted are servers extraordinaire – we felt like we made new friends).

 

Woody’s

Woody’s is a small, dive-y (not in a bad way) bar and restaurant that really doesn’t look like much from the outside. But step inside and you will find a warm, welcoming atmosphere, great drinks, and excellent seafood (that far exceeds the taste of your average bar food). If you’ve walked around Cruz Bay but haven’t been to Woody’s, you may know it as the bar with the crowd of regulars spilling out onto the street during happy hour.

Woodys Sign

The Shark Bites, which are bite sized squares of blackened mahi, are my personal favorite. I also love the blackened shrimp and the corn crusted scallops.  And dare I write this “review” without mentioning that their version of everyone’s STJ favorite, the Painkiller, is superb.  Check out the menu here.

Woody's Menu Board

Woody’s Menu Board

 

Here are some notes on other spots we love in Cruz Bay.

The Beach Bar – It’s almost always our first meal on the island.  It feels a bit like home.  The food is always great, the service is always friendly, the atmosphere is always laid-back and the view is always stunning.  I love their flying shrimp and their nachos.  And they’ve got super cool merch.

Sunset at The Beach Bar

Sunset at The Beach Bar

Da Livio – For Authentic homemade pasta and brick oven pizza (arguably the best on the island).

Pizza Chef at Da Livio

Pizza Chef at Da Livio

Lime Inn – Amazing owners and hosts and fantastic seafood.  An STJ institution for good reason.

Joe’s Rum Hut – High quality bar food with a killer view and great drinks.

Sun Dog Cafe – Well executed, unique dishes served by a friendly staff.  And their version of everyone’s favorite adult milkshake, the Bushwacker, is like 1000 calories of heaven in a glass.

 

What have I missed?  What are your favorite STJ restaurants?  I’m always up for discovering new favorites.

Sep 182013
 

While the weather on our recent trip to St. John was dark and stormy not entirely cooperative, we managed to do a bit of diving with Low Key Watersports in Cruz Bay.

Low Key Sign

With Bob as our captain and Isaac as our DM, we motored out to Congo Cay the day after a raging storm (Tropical Storm Gabrielle had just passed to the North).  I had little hope for the visibility, but Bob expertly chose a site that proved to be quite nice given the recent weather patterns.  At a max depth of 60 ft (18.28 m), we found ourselves at the base of a large rocky outcropping which was home to lots of beautiful coral formations and swim-throughs.  Among the creatures we saw on this dive were barracuda, southern stingrays, trumpetfish, comb jellies, tuna, filefish, snapper and a large porcupine fish.

Below are some shots from the dive.

Trumpetfish, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Trumpetfish, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Coral

Coral

Lionfish, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Lionfish, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Grey Angelfish

Grey Angelfish

Butterflyfish Pair, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Butterflyfish Pair, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Large Anemone, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Large Anemone, by Mr. Reeftraveler – check out the parrotfish in the lower right corner

Have you dived the USVI?  What are your favorite sites?

Sep 152013
 

We’ve just returned home from our annual journey to my “adopted home” of St. John.  Even though we love to explore new places, I can’t manage to shake the St. John flu.  That little island has a hold on me like no other.

My Charm Necklace, with STJ Coordinates

STJ Coordinates – Cruz Bay in the background

For the second year in a row, we stayed at Gallows Point.  I’m eternally tempted by the striking villas that speckle the verdant hillsides, but Gallows Point scores major points when it comes to convenience, house reef, lodging quality and location.

Gallows Point House Reef, from our Balcony

Gallows Point House Reef, from our Balcony

Gallows Point Resort from the Water

Gallows Point Resort

The Reef Awaits

The Reef Awaits

Jump In

Jump In

Our weather for the week was, in a word, wet.  A record rainfall was recorded on St. Thomas, thanks in no small part to Tropical Storm Gabrielle which passed through during our visit.  Our planned trip to the BVIs on Kekoa was cancelled, so we were sadly BVI-less for the week.

The rain and wind brought the visibility down a few notches.  Nevertheless, we spent hours snorkeling on the house reef and photographing its inhabitants.  More to come on this…

Gallows Point Reef Resident Octopus

Gallows Point Reef Resident Octopus, by Mr. Reeftraveler

While many boat diving days were cancelled due to weather, we managed to do a few days of diving with Low Key Watersports.  We explored Mingo, Congo and Lovango Cays with Isaac, Low Key’s Divemaster extraordinaire.

Meredith at Congo Cay, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Meredith at Congo Cay, by Mr. Reeftraveler

Flamingo Tongue, Lovango Cay

Flamingo Tongue, Lovango Cay

Southern Stingray, Lovango Cay - by Mr. Reeftraveler

Southern Stingray, Lovango Cay – by Mr. Reeftraveler

Due to wet roads and poor weather conditions, we didn’t get out to do much North Shore beach exploring.  But our underwater explorations at Gallows Point and the Cays more than made up for the lack of beach time.

Mr. Reeftraveler Diving Congo Cay

Mr. Reeftraveler Diving Congo Cay

Check back soon for lots more on St. John, including dive photos from Congo, Lovango and Mingo Cays, snorkeling shots from Gallows Point, thoughts on restaurants we liked and more.

Sep 122013
 

Caribbean travelers, have you heard the tales of the ever-present iguanas biting pedicured red toes?

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The theory makes sense, really.  Iguanas fancy the taste of hibiscus flowers, which are often red and often on the ground.  An iguana sees red on the ground, and voila, lunch is served.

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Despite its believability, I was never convinced of the validity of this little nugget of lore.  After all, I had been to the Caribbean over 20 times, and my toes have been painted red for at least 15 of the 20 total visits.  I’ve encountered as many iguanas as a daily NYC subway rider has encountered giant rats.

Then one day, it happened.

While in Bonaire a few months ago, I was sitting on the patio gazing at this.

Bonaire Sunset

Mere Sunset S

Due to my aversion to shoes (I grew up in the South, where shoes were optional), my bare feet touched the iguana-laden ground, while I gazed, trance-like, into the gorgeous glowing Caribbean.  At that moment, I had not a care in the world.  “This is the life”, I thought.

Then, like a bolt from the blue, I felt a sharp pinch on my big toe.  I looked down just in time to watch the iguana dislodge it’s pointy little teeth from my flesh.

I can not confirm or deny the identity of the feet in this photo

I can not confirm or deny the identity of the feet in this photo

Mr. Reeftraveler hastily snapped the above photo while laughing hysterically at the incident which had just taken place.  “Ouch”, I screamed.  “What is his problem?”.  “What did you expect?”, said Mr. Reeftraveler.  “Your toes are painted bright red”.

Right then and there I learned the hard way that yes, it’s true.  Caribbean iguanas do indeed bite red toenails.

After a visit to the hospital, whereupon I received 28 stitches to close the wound…. Ok, that part isn’t true.  The bite didn’t even break the skin.  I didn’t even need a Band-Aid.

My advice to those who prefer red pedicured toes – paint until your heart is content.  Just stay alert for hungry iguanas.