The Caribbean island of St. John is located a few short miles to the west of St. Thomas, and both are part of the United States Virgin Islands. Due to the plentiful coral reefs that surround St John, and the fact that two-thirds of of the island is a protected by the US National Park Service, there is no way for cruise ships to call directly to the island. I think this is great as it has created a spectacular place to visit, explore, and relax. DCL sailings to St. Thomas include a few select port adventures to St. John.
Essentially, St John is a secondary port of call for Eastern Caribbean cruises that call on St Thomas due to it’s close proximity. There are a few ways to get to St. John from St. Thomas, most of which involve some pre-planning as you will need to stick to a schedule.
The Hassle Free Method
By far the easiest way to visit St John while on your Eastern Caribbean cruise is to book a DCL Port Adventure, such as the very popular St. John Trunk Bay Beach and Snorkel Tour. When we took this tour a few years ago, we boarded the Island Girl ferry which was waiting for us right next to the Disney Fantasy at the end of the Havensight pier. The ferry took us on a 45-minute trip to Cruz Bay. Upon arrival in St. John we transferred to an open air taxi ride to Trunk Bay, which on a good day should only take 15 minutes.
Following your excursion you will return to Cruz Bay to re-board the same passenger ferry which will take you back to the Havensight pier. On our excursion we were treated to a nice view of Dumbo on the stern of the Disney Fantasy.
A La Carte Method
If you are comfortable exploring ports on your own, an alternate method is to take a taxi from the Havensight pier to the Red Hook ferry dock followed by a much shorter ferry trip to Cruz Bay. On our last Eastern Caribbean cruise in March, we pre-arranged transportation with Islander Taxi Service. My wife set it up so our group would be picked up just outside the security gate at Havensight, transported to Red Hook.
We purchased round trip tickets on the passenger ferry and made sure to check the ferry schedule. I am not kidding, if you do this on your own during a cruise do not loose track of time. Make sure you know the ferry schedule and plan accordingly. You will arrive in Cruz Bay at the same dock as the regular DCL excursion ferry. As part of our pre-arranged transportation we were given a driver’s phone number to call once we were on the ferry. We called (using our AT&T cell phones), and as promised our driver was waiting for our group upon arrival. We quickly loaded into his open air taxi and drove to Cinnamon Bay.
Cinnamon Bay is a little past Trunk Bay and is more relaxing due to the fact it is not a cruise ship port adventure destination. Trunk Bay can become very busy with cruise excursion from the multiple ships that call on St Thomas. We were dropped off and arranged our return time with our driver based on the very important previously mentioned ferry schedule. Due to the fact we arranged this excursion on our own, we had much more time to spend at the beach.
After a few hours we packed up and used the fresh water showers to clean up before meeting back with our driver for our return to Cruz Bay to catch the ferry back to St. Thomas. As we departed Cruz Bay, we called our original driver in St. Thomas to let him know we will be arriving soon at Red Hook. Upon arrival to Red Hook we boarded the taxi and made it back to the pier with more than enough time to spare before all aboard. The most important thing to remember if you consider this method is to make sure you stick to the schedule. To be safe, we planned our return ferry trip one hour earlier than required in the event we were delayed. This would have allowed us to catch the next ferry and still get us back to the ship, but with much less time. I cannot stress this enough, be careful with your time when you are not part of an official DCL excursion.
The final method is essentially the same as the previous a la carte method, with one difference. You rent a vehicle in St Thomas, and take the car barge from Red Hook to Cruz Bay. This was a method we considered during previous cruises to St Thomas, but in the end the a la carte method was the best way to go. We determined that it was easier to pay for the multiple taxi rides rather than deal with the hassle of renting a vehicle for the day. I looked at it this way, any benefit of renting a vehicle for the day would be offset by the time spent dealing with the rental process. I would much rather rely on the taxi service and spend more of our time enjoying the beaches in St John.
Although, I feel renting a vehicle for the day is not worth the hassle, it does offer you the freedom to explore many of the wonderful areas St John has to offer. This may very well be a good method for a really adventurous group, but I would not suggest this method if you just want to go to one of the many beaches on St John.
Driving on the Left
In June, we skipped a cruise vacation to spend more time in what has become our favorite Eastern Caribbean destination, St. John, USVI. We flew into St. Thomas and rented a Jeep which is almost a requirement if you are going to be exploring St. John. I will admit, I was on edge and a little stressed out about having to drive on the left on unfamiliar roads that wind up and down mountainous terrain. Needless to say, a couple days into our trip my nerves settled, and I was comfortable driving on the left. I asked my wife and daughter to remind me to drive on the left every time we got back in the Jeep. It only took about a day to get the hang of it and by the end of our trip I was completely comfortable driving on the left. In fact, I started to drive down our street on the wrong side of the road our first day back at home in Florida.
The video below is a dash cam video shot with a GoPro from Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay to Coral Bay. The drive passes Caneel Bay, Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, among other key points of interest on route 20 (North Shore Road). The intro to the video a great reminder to be safe especially near blind curves.