We celebrated our tenth anniversary in March with a spectacular trip to the Virgin Islands national park on St. John. It wasn’t the most romantic trip, since we were covered in children the entire time, but since I am nursing Rachel and needed to keep her with me, we decided to make it a family affair.
After booking six flights (plus one lap baby), a VRBO cottage, and the very last minivan left on St. Thomas, the next challenge was getting the whole family tested for covid. The Virgin Islands run all visitors through a strict travel portal which requires a negative covid test. Out of an abundance of caution we decided to skip the free testing option and schedule appointments with our family healthcare provider, which led to unpleasant nasal swabs, consolatory fruit smoothies, a $125 bill, and negative results across the board.
48 hours before our American Airlines flight departed, all five children came down with a cold. We spent a sad Purim evening sniffling through the Megillah reading and praying for a miracle. Face masks + runny noses sounded like a recipe for disaster. Altitude changes + sinus congestion sounded even worse.
Sunday morning came, and although the children weren’t 100%, we got ourselves to the airport and on the plane with no problem. It turns out the Virgin Islands don’t use daylight savings time, so the 4.5hr flight we were prepared for all the sudden became an hour shorter! Rachel fell right to sleep, the kids doodled away on their new drawing boards, and after a few episodes of Molly Yeh’s cooking show “Girl Meets Farm,” we landed in St. Thomas and climbed out on the tarmac. “This was so easy!” we said to ourselves overconfidently.
By the time we rented a car, drove across St. Thomas, ferried over to St. John, picked up dinner, and drove across St. John to our VRBO rental, it was dark and we were hungry. This may be an understatement but Rachel did not like the rollercoaster mountain roads of St. John at all. I had just burst into exhausted tears when we finally arrived at Stonegarden Cottage in Coral Bay and settled down for the night.
Our cottage was clean, comfortable, and spacious, with a stunning view of the bay below and a generator to avoid the island’s frequent power outages. It also had a few lovable quirks, like no AC, an open air shower, a few friendly cockroaches, and a very limited supply of water (“only flush for number two,” “turn shower off while soaping up,” “please don’t use washing machine,” no dishwasher, etc).
The owners of Stonegarden Cottage offered to let us rent an inflatable toddler mattress for Rachel to sleep on. Since we were already gate checking two car seats and a stroller, we gave up the idea of bringing our pack & play, and hoped the air mattress would work out. It was perfect for Rachel!
We quickly learned that Cruz Bay and Coral Bay are essentially opposites. Cruz Bay is the tourist side of St. John, while Coral Bay is where the locals actually live. It is a rugged 30-minute drive to get from one place to another. We feel that we got the authentic island experience by staying in Coral Bay, whereas my sister Christine and her husband had a completely different time during their honeymoon at an elegant resort near Cruz Bay in 2013.
On Monday, we ventured out to Maho Bay for our first peek at the beautiful national park beaches. We also figured out where to get groceries, and more importantly, coffee. Finding gluten free, kosher, and vegetarian food was a bit more difficult than I had hoped. “Slim pickings,” as my mother says. The Coral Bay grocery store carried mainly alcohol and chips, apparently staples of the local diet. We had a notable meal of Hebrew National hot dogs and a few breakfasts of highly overpriced cheerios. Dinners were a tasty assortment of fish, rice, and vegetables.
We accidentally left our backpack at Maho Bay Monday morning and then got lost in the park because we didn’t have a map with us. We also survived our first tropical rain shower, huddled under an improvised towel canopy on the beach. After a quick nap at home we spent the afternoon at Francis Bay.
On Tuesday, Greg snorkeled the famous underwater trail at Trunk Bay, and then we drove into town (Cruz Bay) to get a stamp at the national park visitor center. Trunk Bay was our favorite beach of the trip. We thought it was the most beautiful one, filled with pillowy white sand and clear aqua water. Although St. John wasn’t crowded, we really enjoyed having the beaches all to ourselves first thing in the morning.
We had to swap our minivan Tuesday afternoon for a 5-passenger Hyundai because the van was starting to overheat and we were getting panicky about being stuck in the middle of nowhere without cell reception. While we waited for the new vehicle, the big kids splashed around at Hawksnest Bay and Rachel took a nap. Hawksnest is very rocky, which was kind of a fun change. Perfect for a game of pirates and rock towers.
On Wednesday, we hiked the Lind Point Trail for a picnic at Honeymoon Bay and visited Maho Bay one more time to search for sea turtles. Honeymoon Bay is a secluded beach, accessible only via (expensive) shuttle though Caneel Bay Resort or a 1.5m hike from the visitor center. We chose the hike! Gregory & I rewarded ourselves with a “painkiller,” a popular local cocktail made with rum from St. Croix.
By the end of the trip, we were celebrities around the island. Everywhere we went people would come over and say they saw us out on the beach or at a restaurant! It’s hard to miss a family of seven in a place that’s 80% wealthy retired people. Probably the closest we’ll ever get to being famous.
On Thursday, we explored the sugar cane plantation ruins at Cinnamon Bay, took a last walk down the beach, and spent the afternoon in St. Thomas before our flight home. We stopped for lunch at a place in St. Thomas advertising gluten free sandwiches, but oddly enough the sandwiches were made on giant pickles instead of bread. I foolishly purchased apples as a snack on the plane only to see them confiscated at the airport.
Overall, it was an incredible trip. Besides the national park, we learned a lot about how to travel with five children! It was pretty amazing to celebrate ten years of marriage in an absolutely beautiful place, surrounded by the blessings God has entrusted to us.
On the way home we contrasted our honeymoon in the Bahamas (2011) with this trip (2021). Both were tropical vacations, around the same time of year and about the same length, just a different number of passengers, but this trip was actually more fun than our honeymoon! Gregory and I know each other so well now and our planning process is a thousand times better. I’m prepared to be constantly on the go. He is prepared to slow down and enjoy the quiet moments.
To Gregory: Happy anniversary, my love. I am the most blessed among women to be your wife. We’ve spent 10 years having babies – let’s spend the next 10 taking them on adventures.