Disney December – Disney Springs – T-Rex Restaurant

Disney World, Food, Girlfriend Getaway, Vacation Value

Imagine that before a trip to Disney you hear about the dinosaur experience at T-Rex. You try to make reservations, but there is no availability. So you decide to try to get in when you arrive. Your family walks up to the restaurant and then you see it, a long line flowing out of the restaurant. The hostess desk tells you that the wait is 2 hours without a reservation. The kids really want to dine here – but everyone is tired and hungry and you just don’t see everyone lasting for 120 minutes. There is a secret pass you can secure before your trip that saves the day!!! 
We arrived at T-Rex and the line was out the restaurant – the wait was at least 1.5 hours – but I walked up to the hostess desk, bypassing the long line, showed my Landrys card and we were escorted past the 2nd line which was waiting to be seated straight to an excellent table. This took less than 5 minutes total. NO RESERVATION!

We had a delicious meal of roasted chicken and tried 2 of the pasta dishes. The service was excellent and the décor is very engaging. The dinosaurs move, there are lights dimming and brightening, the sounds are reminiscent of a prehistoric jungle. So many of the young children were just sitting in amazement at all of the action around them. So, what is the secret to getting in the restaurant with no reservation and seated in less than 10 minutes???

Get the Landrys dining card ( you will pay $25 to join, but within a few hours you will get a credit of $25 on your account, so the net cost is $0. In addition, this method works at all Landrys restaurants – presenting the card also allows points to be accrued that give you dining credits, and during your birthday month you receive a $25 gift credit good for $45 days. I am not a compensated spokesperson for Landrys – but a convinced and loyal customer of their restaurants. If you want to have quick entry to T-Rex, or either of the Rainforest Cafes at Disney – this is a great secret pass to have in your trip plans.  

Disney December – How to do Disney for $129 a day (Air -Villa-Tickets-and a round of drinks!)

Animal Kingdom, Disney World, Epcot, Friends, Girlfriend Getaway, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Vacation Value

Traveling to Orlando from the Midwest on a 7:30am flight means getting up at 3:30am. The sacrifice of sleep is a small price when you are meeting good friends and in fact the anticipation makes it hard to sleep! Our arrival at O’hare went smoothly, the flight was leaving on time and we even got better seats once we got to the gate. Vagablond was given a complimentary upgrade to first, and tried to give it to JoJo or Deb – but they insisted I take the seat. As a small token of sharing, and courtesy of the first class kitchen, I arrived with a warm cinnamon roll for Deb and a Bloody Mary for Jo Jo about halfway through the flight. We had a minor scare with Deb’s bag once we arrived – but the United luggage service worked really hard to track the bag down and make sure it did not go on a free cruise via the “Magical Express” program.

With the crisis averted – we were on our way to our offsite hotel, The Sheraton Vistana Villas Resort. On past trips both Deb and Jo Jo had stayed at an onsite Disney Resort, and this past July Vagablond and 2 daughters had stayed at Art of Animation resort. We made the conscious decision to stay off site on this trip based on past experience, cost and value. It was not a decision we regret at all for this trip. The Sheraton Vistana Villas were very nice, we had a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa – with kitchen, living and dining room and a screened patio. While we were not in the room for hours on end, the time we spent there was very enjoyable and the coffee pot was a very welcome feature. The hotel staff was very friendly and helpful when our washer drum came loose during our first load, we called and it was fixed the very next day. We spent time at the pools twice and enjoyed the loungers, snack bar, cocktails and hot tubs.

We all agreed at the end of the vacation that if we had stayed at a Disney resort we would not have had the space to spread out, would have had to share one bathroom, probably no patio and certainly no coffee pot. While a Disney villa would have been as nice – it would have been 3 times more expensive.  I want to share details on the package we purchased for the trip, as an FYI and a comparison for people interested in cutting cost. Vagablond is a member of Costco and we purchased a package deal through Costco Travel without airfare. Here is how it breaks down:

We purchased Airfare through the United website at $95 round trip per person – That is Not a typo – This was ROUND TRIP.

Purchased a Costco package to Disney World for $2052.00 –($684 each) it included:

6 nights-2 Bdrm 2 Bath Villa & $50 resort credit (we used this for snacks and drinks at the pool)

7 Days of a full size rental car from Alamo

5 Day BASE Ticket to Disney – (no park hopper – but we were planning to do one park a day)

Our total cost for 6 days came out to $779 per person for flight, very nice lodging, a full size car AND our tickets to Disney which is $129 per person per day for Air, Car, Hotel and Park tickets. If you buy the 5 day base ticket on the Disney site – the cost for that alone is $335.38 with tax.

We spent one of our days moving from Disney Springs where parking is free, to a resort where we had to connect to take a bus to the park, then at the end of the day taking a boat to a resort to connect to a bus that would go to Disney Springs. The transportation system was crowded, slow and we spent a total of 3.5 hours traveling on trains, trams, boats and buses that day. IF we would have had to do that for 6 days we would have gone crazy. Based on all of our past experiences we knew that staying at a resort does not necessarily afford the same comfort or freedom that a rental car.

We all decided that the rental car was the way to get around after that. We did find a work around for the $20 per day parking on one day, we made a reservation at Rainforest Café near Animal Kingdom – we told the parking attendant we had a reservation and did not have to pay the $20 to park. The practice of charging “non resort” guests to park is something that Disney should rethink. Three women visiting the parks are spending a lot of money – on tickets, souvenirs, food and drink.

Disney December – Finding a shiny dime.  


Once upon a time, there were three friends, Vagablond, Jo Jo and Deb who met at bible study.  We were raising a combination of 8 children, changing diapers, managing careers and families.  We all moved through our lives putting family first, surviving divorces, deaths and illness, celebrating births, remarriages and being a survivor.

 Our reconnection began when Jo Jo suddenly lost her husband.   We made it a point after that to find mornings to meet for breakfast.  It was a comfort and we realized that we were still able to make each other laugh.   Women having supportive and good friends really does matter, it is about that connection that ranges from “we are so adorable” to “Ok – check my behavior on this- Am I being too _______????”   Losing a girlfriend connection from the past and then rediscovering the love, camraderie, support and honesty you had is one of the great gifts of the Universe.  

The idea to visit Disney together came from a conversation during one of our breakfasts.  We were talking about vacations and how visiting Disney is always a thrill.  Deb had a story about Disney at Christmas and how beautiful, fun and even spritual it was.  I was shocked – in all of the marketing and commercialism around what Disney does I wondered how they would align to the politcal correctness that surrounds us and still bring the message of hope from Jesus’ birth.  

How does Vagablond answer any question?  Why Travel of course – and the trip planning began!#DisneyDecember

Las Vegas on a bargain air carrier and a HGVC Timeshare offer is it really that cheap?

Couples, He Said She Said Travels, Vacation Value

Hubby got a call from Hilton, they had a great offer.  Most anyone that has ever received one of these calls understands the drill.   You pay about $200 and you get 3 nights and 4 days at a beautiful property.  The only requirement is that you take 90 minutes out of your vacation to hear more about joining the “vacation club”. We had been talking about going to Vegas again, and it seemed like a good idea, so we thought let’s go!

We found “cheap” airfare on Frontier- at $59 from Chicago, but after paying for our ticket we found we had to pay if we wanted to choose our seat, add $10 each, and bags were $25 each so it turned out that the tickets were actually $90 each one way.   We decided to fly home on American and since we both had status we were in first class for $130 one way.   A much more comfortable seat and overall flight.

We flew out on Frontier on a 10 pm(CST) flight.  While boarding we noticed a couple things- flight attendants may be wearing uniforms that were repurposed from the 80’s, they did not smile much and their overall demeanor was just kind of miserable.  The passengers boarding were kind of the same- just generally in a bad mood, many with children in tow and it felt kind of like a city bus at midnight clientele.  When we landed at 12:30am Las Vegas time, hubby said “well we can check off flying Frontier from our bucket list- because we are not doing that again!”  If price is the only motivating factor make sure you understand the true price of your ticket and do an apples to apples comparison before booking the bargain priced airlines.

After a $30 cab ride from the airport we arrived at check in at HIlton Grand Vacation Club on Las Vegas Boulevard.  Our timeshare stay did not start until Thursday, and we had reserved a 1 bedroom suite for Tuesday and Wednesday night at a rate of $99 per night.  The front desk was attended, but the gentleman working said that the checkin system was down so he could not issue us keys.  We would need to wait or he could bring us up to our room with a master key and when the system came back up bring us keys.   The problem would be that we could not leave our room because we would not be able to get back in.  We agreed, but we were super thirsty and did they have water to buy or for Hilton Diamond members.  He said “No, I’m sorry -This is like Apartment dwelling – and we have no food or drink at this hour.  So much for Las Vegas being the city that never sleeps!   He also told us not to expect breakfast as a diamond member and we discovered later that the property has no restaurant, just a convenience store that sells overpriced groceries and gas station style pizza.  Our suite did have a kitchen, and we did end up buying some bacon, eggs and fruit from the CVS next door, but we decided this was not the hotel to has a Vegas style experience.   We were booked Tuesday through Saturday night though and decided to make the best of it.

As it turns out we were booked in studio suite for our 3 night stay.  We asked to keep the one bedroom so we would not have to move.  The hotel said they were oversold and we would have to move, we said ok but then they offered us the opportunity to pay $25 per night and we agreed.   But here is the best part.  Add the $75 to the $229 we paid to have the vacation it comes out to $101 per night for our “great deal” and we still have to spend 90 minutes in a sales presentation.

The day of the sales presentation came on Friday at 3pm.  We wanted to change the time that would be a bit more convenient for us and had called the customer service desk weeks ahead to do so.  We were told that you cannot have the presentation on the day you arrive or the day you leave. We also tried at the hotel and were told that this could only be done by calling the customer service desk which had told us ……you get the picture.  We knew that any freebies we wanted to use  such as the free dinner at 2 different restaurants  or a free lunch at a sushi buffet would have to be used on Saturday before midnight when our plane was taking off.

The best Vagablond advice on timeshare offers to Vegas and bargain basement fares is do research, read reviews and price out your options.  Chances are, you may change your mind


Las Vegas the Vagablond Way!


A trip to Vegas – you never have to ask me twice!   Hubby found a great deal- it does involve viewing a timeshare- but we love Hiltons- so it should be fun.   I’m in sales and marketing and I actually get a kick out of watching people sell, experiencing a pitch from the other side of the desk and learning from the sales people that probably have one of the hardest sells on earth.   

Our plans include Hilton Grand Vacation on the strip, Penn and Teller, Jeff Dunham and any other entertaining thing we can find to do.  We like to gamble, but not lose money- so we will see how much time we spend at the tables.  We are taking the 18 year old daughter for just one night- then Wednesday night she is off to Phoenix for her own adventure- but it will be very cool to see her eyes light up when she sees the strip tonight when we land.  

Stay tuned…….can’t wait to reconnect with one of my favorite cities!

How does any great trip to New Orleans start?  With food of course!

We arrived just about dinner time on Friday the 13th of March and picked up at MSY by our New Orleans resident and #1 son.  We loaded our bags into  the trunk and placed a box containing six frozen Chicago pizzas in the backseat and we were on our way.    The first question we answered was – “You guys hungry?”    We were, and knew that we were in for a great gastronomic guided tour over the next few days.


Our first stop was Toups Meatery located in Mid-town New Orleans.    We ordered a couple of drinks and I had my first ever Beet martini.  Mom always told me that beets were good for me, she would be so proud that I have found a new way to get these into my diet!

We ordered and shared four small plates:

chicken liver

Chicken Liver Pate Toups Meatery


Cracklings Toups Meatery

BakedOysters                    Toups Meatery

Baked Oysters Toups Meatery


Bone Marrow and Chicken Hearts

Each dish was full of flavor, texture and unusual tastes.  The pate was smooth and tasty, the bone marrow was scooped out with a tiny tasting spoon and the chicken hearts reminded me of being a kid and tasting them for the first time on my Grandmas farm.  The baked oysters had a delicious breadcrumb topping that was perfectly crunchy to complement the chewy and tender oysters and the fried cracklings were a salty, melt in your mouth sensation that made us want to bring a bag home for snacking.   And this absolutely tasty adventure was just our first stop!

Prep for St Patricks Day in NOLA

Preparing for St. Patrick’s Day in NOLA

We decided to move on and have entrees at another spot, so we headed out to the car to join the box of pizzas.  We rode down a street in the Irish Channel where preparations for the St Patrick’s Day parade were underway. As we went by there was a guy painting a shamrock on the street while a bagpiper played an Irish serenade setting the mood for the coming festivities.

La Crepe Nanou

untitled We arrived at La crepe Nanou,about  7pm.  We did not have a reservation so we took at seat at the bar.  #1 lives across the street so he brought the pizza’s to his freezer and we barely finished our first cocktail while keeping good company with a mermaid, when the maitre’d told us our table was ready.  #1 Son knew the owner and that may have speeded our seating, but the bar is cozy and a good place to observe patrons and soak in some local NOLA neighborhood vibe.  Once seated we ordered an appetizer of escargot with some fresh bread to soak up the garlic butter they were floating in.    We sampled the French onion soup that #1 ordered and it was absolutely perfect.  We had crepes for dinner, mine was spinach, mushroom and cheese and Hubby and #1 had the crab crepes.  Everything was absolutely delicious and our server was professional, attentive and very good at his job.

We decided that we could not pass up dessert, so we ordered the crepe Nanou to share between the three of us.  Is was a crepe filled with coffee ice cream, vanilla bean and chocolate ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce.  The evening was a great way to spend time together and visit with our son to catch up.  We left and headed to our hotel.

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL – 444 St. Charles, New Orleans NOLA

We stayed at The Intercontinental at 444 St Charles Street, near the French Quarter.   We were delighted when we arrived to a great southern welcome and given an upgrade to a suite.

Living Room of Intercontinental

Living Room of Suite Intercontinental

Intercontinental Patio

Patio of Intercontinental Suite

Amenity upon Arrival at Intercontinental NOLA

Welcome Amenity upon arrival at Intercontinental NOLA

At checkin we met the night manager and he told us that this is the suite  they give to Sean Payton when he stays with them.   We opened the door of our room to a beautiful table filled with wine, chocolate, and fruit.    There was a King bedroom, beautiful remodeled bath, living room and an outdoor patio where the sights and sounds of NOLA could be enjoyed.  We turned in for the night, happy and looking forward to the next day when we would be touring the National World War II museum.

Our Saturday started with breakfast at our hotel.  The buffet is huge and looked delicious, but we both thought that was a lot of food so we opted for a fruit plate and to split an omelet.  It was a delicious way to start our day.  It was beautiful 70 degrees and sunny outside so we walked the 10 blocks to the museum.  We marveled at the trees covered in beads and recovering from past Mardi Gra parades and celebrations.


We arrived at the museum about 10:45.  There was a line that moved quickly for tickets.  We purchased museum entry and the Beyond all Boundaries 4D movie for 2pm.   The lobby of the museum is wide open and there are helpful staff roaming around to answer questions.   We followed a group into a conference type room and sat down to listen to a brief talk about the museum.  A lively older man was the speaker and gave some great insight about why the museum is located in New Orleans, I won’t give it away, but a product that they produced in NOLA during the war was given credit by General Eisenhower for winning the war.  After walking through the museum and learning more I can understand why he would have said that.

We spent 6 hours in the museum and could have been there longer if they would not have been closing.  This is a great experience for young and old alike.  There is a detailed history, along with artifacts, but the element that truly brings the story of what happened during that time in our countries history was the personal accounts by WWII vets.  We heard one speak when we dropped in to the first talk of our day.  He was a 91 year old veteran Marine named Burt.  He was proud to have served and by the time he finished I needed a tissue.   All exhibits have an element of the personal stories from the era, battles or experiences of those who served.  Personal stories and the detailed history of the war helped us all understand truly that Fortitude means – courage in pain or adversity.  The informal term is “guts”, and we learned very clearly what brave heroes there were from not just America, but many countries around the world.

my gal sal

My Gal Sal

We walked across the street to the museum that has the Beyond all Boundaries Movie which lasts about 45 minutes.  The movie is well worth it as it covers a lot of information and it is narrated by Tom Hanks.  Afterward we ate lunch at the American Sector restaurant located on the opposite end of this building and it was really good!  We had burgers and a barbeque chicken flatbread with some local beers.  The menu has a nice variety and there is an outdoor patio just outside, though we sat at the bar to eat.  It was a very nice spot and a nice meal.     We walked over to the building that houses several airplanes including “My Gal Sal”.  You can ascend the building so you are high enough that you are looking straight at the airplanes on the 4th level.

museum Airplane Tanks Airliner

It is a bit dizzying at first, but such a thrill to get so close.   We stayed here for quite awhile, viewing exhibits, airplanes, vehicles, campsites and learning more and more.  The final building is where you can scan a dog tag card that was issued at ticket purchase.  It is here that you can walk in the shoes of the person you were given at “check in” to the museum.  It is the final way to truly hear about the people and what they experienced during the war.

LUKE Restaurant

We headed back to our hotel for a rest and refresh and decided on the John Besh restaurant Luke for dinner.  LUKE is located just across the street from the Intercontinental Hotel and  in the same building as the Hilton, so it was very convenient and #1 son had said it was a terrific restaurant.  Our reservation was for 9:15pm and most of the rush was over leaving the restaurant lively, but not loud.  We ordered the Flamenkuchen as an appetizer it is a thin alsacien onion tarte with bacon and emmenthaler cheese.  Our entrees were outstanding I had ,Jumbo Louisiana Shrimp “en Cocotte” which had roasted jalapeño cheese grits, andouille & green onion sausages, Hubby had the Entrecôte Grillée Et Frites, a grilled ribeye with sour mash steak sauce.  He hardly ate any sauce because the flavor of the steak was outstanding!  We finished dinner with a dessert of  Bourbon vanilla bean crème brulee.  As we were finishing dessert we had some fun and photo bombed a table of 4 people.  They laughed and were very good natured – telling us “Nice Photo Bomb”. I guess even us middle age adults revert to our  mischievous young adult behaviors now and again.

After dinner we walked about 6 blocks to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street.  It was a hectic night with many people partying pretty hard because it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend.  We walked in the midst of the drunken crowd watching revelers from balconies above tossing beads down to people begging for them on the street.  We did not see many women using the traditional tactic, but there were a few.  We found some respite in the quiet courtyard at 311 Bourbon St., it is called Musical Legends Park.  We heard the Steamboat Willie Jazz Band play for a bit, bought a CD from them and headed back to the hotel. We saw the couples we had photo bombed at the restaurant and they waved hello and smiled.  We felt like it had been a full day but what a great time we were having.

Elizabeth’s Restaurant

menu Praline Bacon Dr Bob art Elizabeths restaurant

On Sunday, our son picked us up and we went to Elizabeth’s restaurant for breakfast.  We had visited this place on a previous trip, and I was really looking forward to another meal here.  The website header says it all:

Our mission is to make everything from scratch. This means bringing in great product and treating it with the most care and creativity that it deserves.”

–Chef Bryon Peck

We ordered the praline bacon as an appetizer – yes – an appetizer for breakfast!   The daily specials of Huevos Rancheros and Crabby Eggs sounded outstanding, and our son likes the traditional Elizabeth’s eggs.  We placed our orders and just enjoyed watching people stream in for brunch.  We were the first to be seated upstairs, but by the time we finished the entire first and second floor were full of people and there was a line outside.  Our meal was outstanding, the artwork by Dr. Bob was entertaining and we left really stuffed full of good food and happy feelings.

Our next adventure was a drive through City Park and over to Lake Pontchartrain.  It is nice when you know someone that lives in a place like New Orleans, #1 son was able to drive us past some beautiful homes, neighborhoods and provide context on the city that we would not know if he were not there providing the ongoing answers to our questions.

After our drive we found a parking spot in the French Quarter and walked toward Mollys at the Market for an Iced Irish Coffee (yum!).   The guys sat at the bar and I wandered to some of the shops for a little retail therapy.   There is a wide range of items for sale from slogan t-shirts to handmade jewelry and a couple of shops with items from Morocco and Africa.    It made for an interesting browse.  We ended up taking a short walk through the French Market.

The French Market

French Market St Joes Day band Farmers market Crepe Cart

The Sunday market was bustling, full of booths with t-shirts, souvenirs and spices and flavorings native to New Orleans.  We saw a band playing for St. Joseph’s day Celebration, A couple of girls serving up different kinds of Crepes and many people dress up in their St. Patty’s day green.  It was a place alive with tourists, artists and the sounds and smells of NOLA.  We headed back to our hotel to enjoy the outdoor patio and watch a bit of the F1 race replay from earlier in the day.  Our plan was to have a nice dinner one last time that evening with #1 son so we targeted a  6:30 dinner.


Dante's Kitchen

Our final meal was set for Dante’s Kitchen, son said it is one of his favorite places.  It is housed in an older home on a corner with outdoor seating available and a welcoming front porch.  They serve sustainable and locally sourced foods.   We had Steamed Mussels and Charred French bread for an appetizer and our entrees were Trois Mignon, Red Fish and a duck entrée for #1.  The sides to accompany included brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes and Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with pecan brown butter crumble and house made marshmallows.   Everything was absolutely perfect.  The ambiance of the restaurant is relaxing, romantic and made it feel like a quiet Sunday Dinner at home.   We left the restaurant relaxed and very full.   We wanted to hear some jazz on Frenchmen Street, so that was our next stop.


Blue Nile

We arrived about 8:30pm and the entire street was lively and full of music.  I had checked the website and knew that there were about a dozen acts scheduled, so we just walked from place to place stopping where we felt there was something that sounded great.  We stopped at Blue Nile for a little while and heard some great soulful jazz, and watched as the crowd grew.  There were lovers, friends, tipsy people and some people that were just there to take it all in.  We decided to walk off dinner and make one more trek through the French Quarter and down Bourbon St.   It was about a mile back to our hotel, but there is so much to see, watch and experience the walk does not feel long or tiring.

We woke up on Monday morning packed and visited LUKE restaurant one more time for breakfast.  I ordered the stuffed French toast, after all that would be my last diet splurge for a while, Hubby had a breakfast biscuit with ham, cheese and bacon.  We had eat and drank well all weekend and we reflected on what a nice weekend it had been.

We were feeling good because we were able to spend one on one time with #1 son – an infrequent occurrence with a large family and many miles between us.  The three of us had spent time dining at really good restaurants and learning about New Orleans from our local family resident, and we experienced the history behind World War II and the fortitude and guts it took to keep our nation free.  We finished our weekend with a thankful sigh for the time, abundance and freedom of our lives.   A very good thing.

Family, Food, NOLA

The Three R’s of St John.  Relaxation- Recreation- Reconnection Island Vacation 2015

Island vacation

Writing this on March 13 – Vacation is about leaving all of your responsibilities, work and obligations behind- doing what you love or just chilling out without a care in the world.   There is a saying- “no good vacation goes un punished” and the late entry of this last installment of our STJ vacation is a testament to our hectic lives full of work, family and craziness.   But, our last three days were truly about the Three R’S of STJ and oh how I wish I could still be there!  

 After discovering the location of the Bordeaux Mountain trailhead on Day 8 – hubby and big brother decided to take that hike from up above 1100 ft elevation, down to sea level.  The hike ends at Little Lameshure, so the rest of us were going to pack up the jeep and head down to meet them and spend the day at the beach.  Dropped the guys off at the trailhead and got to have my first experience driving on the left- not sure if it counts since there were no other cars on the road.  Got back to the villa and the three of us gathered up the snorkel gear, towels, beach chairs, made lunch and jumped in the jeep in record time!   Little brother drove and it took us just about the same amount of time to get down to the road to where we said we would meet as it did for the guys to descend the mountain- morning  traffic and a couple of herds of goats and we were there!   

The guys had made the hike in about 45 minutes so they had been wandering around for a bit.   They had seen an islander in the bay singing “In the Jungle” when they finished the hike.   There were not many people around.  Interestingly enough a post on Tripadvisor has surfaced after we returned home with people saying that they were harassed by this guy.  Check it out here and be the judge- Big brother and Hubby did not experience this at all, so I’m sure that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.   

We set up under some shady trees and spent most of the rest of the day snorkeling, brothers did a little more hiking and just watching the world pass by.   There was one couple that showed up and they were happy to be away from what turned out to be the first of many snow storms Boston was experiencing.   They were friendly, but the guy turned out to be kind of a tool- saw him snorkel and pull a lobster out of its home in the rocks and then pull an anemone out and wave it around to show his wife, after he came out of the water he decided it would be a good idea to fly fish from shore into a bay full of snorkelers.   One local guy that was getting ready to paddle board asked him to stop or move to a safer location and Boston Boy just looked at him and his wife told the local guy to have a nice day.   

We had planned to head to Cruz Bay to souvenir shop, but learned about a fire that had happened at Mongoose Junction.  The island had all of its fire departments report, so we decided that we did not need to add to the crowd and decided to head home.  After a stop at Miss Lucy’s where we split 2 grouper rueben sandwiches between the 5 of us and  wishing we had each ordered one, we headed to the grocery store.  We heard more about the fire there and it had taken out several businesses.  The reaction of the islanders reminded me of how a small town comes together I these situations.  

We headed home for some filets and roasted sweet potatoes on the grill, a night of packing and relaxing and headed out on the car ferry the next morning.   We stayed at the Best Western Carib next to the airport and finished our trip up with dinner at Oceana in Frenchtown.  St John is about Relaxation in a pool- jacuzzi- or on the beach. Recreation like people watching, – hiking, snorkeling ,diving, swimming and boating.  Reconnection with human beings is the best reason to visit.  the kindness on this island is like no place else.  People are welcoming, helpful and accepting.  Go there to reconnect with nature- family – your partner or spouse but most of all with yourself. 

Island Vacation Day 8 – St John style relaxation


One of the best parts about an island vacation is the conscious decision to relax – sometimes it is on a beach, other times it is with a cocktail.  If you are staying in a beautiful location, a villa, a hotel or even a campground on St. John there are ample opportunities to be active, but also times when just “chilling” is the best way to truly enjoy the surroundings and your vacation.

We started this day with a wonderful breakfast of steak and eggs.  We have had some very good meals while on island – usually using our own kitchen in Eminence on High, the villa we rented from  After breakfast we talked about the plan of the day and several options came up – but something about the cool pool, sunlit patio and some chilled island cocktails was calling, ” Vagablond….stay home!”  and so that is exactly what hubby and I did.

Floating in the pool

Floating in the pool

View of Coral Bay from patio

We lounged by the pool, we called hubby’s mom and dad in Florida to congratulate them on 68 years of marriage    and said a little prayer that we would be given that same time to be together. We celebrated our life, our family and the happiness we feel when we are able to just “be” together.
Later that afternoon we took a short drive through the roads near the villa. We found the trailhead for the Bordeaux Mountain Trail and decided that trail which starts 1150ft above sea level – and leads down to Little Lamshur may be a trek for another day.
That evening it was dinner with family at the villa – we had slow roasted a pork loin with pineapple mango salsa. It was at this meal we hooked little brother on sweet potatoes cut up and roasted on the barbeque grill. He found out that a food he thought he hated is actually pretty good. Only a couple days left and we are already sad to be leaving.

Island Vacation Day 7 – The “Super Snorkle” Day my oh my barracuda’s are curious!

Island vacation

Tim from St. JohnA few islands ago, Hubby asked Vagablond to learn to scuba.  I agreed to try and I did go to the class, don the gear and get in the water ready to go.  Then I got about 6 feet under and kinda freaked out.  I told hubby to go ahead and I stayed back to snorkel the reef with my tushy popped up through the water and easy access to the air above me.

Since diving is not something we could do together and we both love to snorkel, it was one of the main activity drawing us to St. John as there are so many great sites that can easily be reached from the beach.  We love adventure and finding the off the beaten path sites was one goal we had.  We did a bit of research on the internet, studied the map of St. John and read about where there may be some cool things to see.  We knew that some spots were not going to be reached by a trail or beach so we would need to rent a dinghy or find a boat to take us.  We found a tour that takes just 6 people with a captain that is a local on St. John.  After a quick email and phone call we reserved spot for this all day snorkel trip around St. John Island.

We arrived at the dock about 8:30am, met our captain and the other members of our small 6 person party and we headed off to our first stop, Eagles Shoal.   It is quite a distance from the island by boat, and frankly I was a bit skeptical and nervous when we arrived.  Our captain gave us instructions on which way to swim, and when hubby put on a safety vest I thought – “if he is going in I’m not letting him go alone!”.  Well it was totally worth the brief fear and trepidation.

When I swam the 20 yards toward the reef all I could see is black below me.   Then the reef appeared and it was so beautiful.  Full of tiny bait fish, caverns, caves and coral.  It is a place that made me want to learn to scuba dive and explore.  It was peaceful with just 4 of us in the water – we had about a 30 minute snorkel here, and as I climbed back in to the boat I told our captain – You will have a hard time topping that!  He said – “Just wait! – there is more”.

We started on the next leg of our exploration and rode past Salt Pond, Lamshur, and Little Lamshur beaches, then curved around the end of Rams Head where we spotted hikers  up on the top taking in what must be a gorgeous view.  We  sped past the Cruz Bay area and the bustling ferry docks and U.S. Customs stop.  We slowed down and found a nice calm spot at Lovango Cay.  It is a small island with a few luxury homes, we learned that there is a homeowners association that runs the marine services, and the island has its own small power grid.  What a beautiful place to call home if you can afford it.  We snorkeled here for about an hour, it was a very pretty, clear and clean reef.

We headed north and toward Mary Point from here, we passed the custom house that sits on the edge of the water and heard a story about how it was used in the past.   We headed over to Waterlemon Cay as one of the passengers remembered snorkeling there 20 years ago.  Upon arrival we saw a repeat of our Day 6– Boats hooked to every mooring, people on the beach, in the water and on the Cay.  We decided that it was a bit crowded and not really something that any of the 6 of us would want to do so we turned on the power and headed out of there and around the island to the east.  Looking for a spot to have lunch and spend about 2 hours snorkeling was the next goal, and so we headed past the many remote bays facing the BVI.

We stopped at Newfound Bay a shallow reef with a narrow entry channel.  We were glad that our captain had knowledge of the layout as I found out just how shallow it was a bit later.  We moored the boat and listened to an overview of the area.  There is grassy area where turtles feed, a coral reef that is hundreds of years old, and new reef that is coming to life in the midst of all of it all.  We could not wait to get in the water and head over to see all that this reef held.  As I swam away, hubby swam up next to me and touched my leg making me jump about 10 feet thinking it was a  sea creature.  I pulled my my head out of the water and told him don’t do that!  He said he just wanted to tell me about a big fish he had seen.  It was about 4 feet long!   I just smiled and said “ok honey” – and put my snorkel back in and swam away thinking – “Sure… saw a 4 foot fish”.   I headed to the reef and let my self get lost in the beauty.

Every foot I swam revealed more and more to see.   If I just stayed still and floated I would see the whole reef come to life below me.  It was during one of these floats that I noticed the reef coming closer and closer, I was floating into a very shallow place that was sort of like a “bowl” of coral. I am very careful about never touching the reef and I started to get a bit panicked as I as I had lost direction and could not figure out how to move away without touching anything. As I did this my upper thigh hit a piece of coral, scraping my skin and stinging. I took a breath and my snorkel filled with water and then I realized that I needed to calm down. I turned on my back to float, breathe and think. After I calmed down I called out to our boat captain and told him that I needed to know which way to swim. He had been watching me and when he pointed I followed his direction and was out of there. I swam in to the bay to take a few minutes and catch my breath and thought floating above some sea grass to spot turtles might be the best thing for me at that point.

After a few minutes the group was coming in for lunch so I swam toward the boat and saw hubby coming from the other side of the bay. He was moving pretty fast, so I just thought he was hungry. As I get closer his head pops up and says – look behind him. I pop my mask in the water and there was a huge 4 foot long fish following him! I turned and asked our captain what kind of fish is that? He laughed and said- “That’s Tim – the barracuda”. I looked again and decided to climb in to the boat and encourage hubby to do the same. At that same time the couple we met on the boat swam up and were able to get a picture of “Tim” which is at the top of this post.  Our captain explained that barracuda are very curious and he has only seen a barracuda hurt someone one time in the six years he has lived on island.  That was when a guy put his finger to the fishes lips and tried to have the fish make “raspberries”.  The guy lost his finger.  We had no trouble with “Tim” and hubby seemed to make a new friend.  It was a little nerve wrecking – but cool none the less.  We ate lunch, watched for Tim and then had another brief snorkel before moving on to our last stop of the day – Flanagan Island.

We started our day at a remote water destination and ended the day the same way.  We pulled into Flanagan and anchored the boat, the captain explained where some of the better underwater sights would be and off we went.  This was a special and awesome experience too – the coral was colorful, the fish were plentiful and there were some pieces of coral that almost looked like boulders of coral that had dropped from the sky, round, full and shaped like huge bowling balls.  Wishing we could stay and knowing that an entire day could be spent here without seeing everything we climbed back in to the boat after about an hour.   What an amazing day!  We returned to the dock feeling like we had accomplished our goal of snorkeling at sites we would have never been able to see off the beach or by hiking to the spot.

I truly believe that finding a “local” to show and tell is still the best way to see a new place.  The young man that runs this tour does it just one day a week.  He is kind, knowledgeable, patient and building great memories for his passengers.   Talk to the locals, ask good questions and most importantly make friends.

Island Vacation Day 6- People! WaterLemon Cay is NOT a theme park!

Island vacation

Our day started with a beautiful sunrise, pink, yellow and white with the sun bright in our eyes through the villa bedroom window. We talked over breakfast about where we wanted to go. We talked about how on our first visit to St John 6 years ago we had hiked the Leinster trail.
It is a flat 0.8-mile trail that follows the shoreline of Leinster Bay just outside of Annaberg plantation. It leads right past Water Lemon Cay and we had not snorkeled there on our first visit. We remembered our prior hike as a quiet trek we did after visiting a vacant Annaberg. We walked over a wide and easy trail with one boat moored in the bay to visit a peaceful, empty and serene beach six years ago.
So we all agreed a nice peaceful hike and then a refreshing snorkel was a great activity for the day. We packed up our snorkel gear, a cooler to leave in the car with drinks and snacks and grabbed some towels. We needed ice so we volunteered to go pick it up in Coral Bay and meet the rest of our group after.
In Coral Bay we picked up the ice, put it in the cooler and decided to take a “road less traveled” back up Rt 20 instead of taking Rt10. The road goes past the Love City Mini Mart and is paved, until it is is no longer paved. We had a 4 wheeling fun trip up and when we were almost to the end we saw a woman on the road with a very large dog and a pet goat. I’m not sure who was more surprised, us or her, as I am fairly confident that she does not see many cars on this road. The road came out right next to the Columbo Smoothie stand- if you drive by there, it is very difficult to spot where the road comes out, but we popped up and over and right on to the continuation of Rt 20 and over to the parking lot at Annaberg.
Well let me tell you the shock upon arrival! My how things have changed………a lot! The parking lot was totally full with cars double parked and the road lined on both sides with cars. This was very different from any other visit we had made to Annaberg. We parked on the roadside and met up with my 2 brothers and then started our hike.
As we walked we met several groups and couples, I was just in disbelief of the number of people. I commented to one woman as we passed about the crowd saying I thought it was quite unusual. She and her husband were just coming back and said, “yeah it’s like Disney World of St John out there- too crowded to even get a good snorkel.” As we continued we understood what she was saying. The beach was full, every mooring, and I think there were at least a dozen was occupied by a boat and there were tourists clothing, bags, shoes and towels hanging from branches everywhere along the shore. There were people, kayaks and dinghies on the shore of WaterLemon Cay. She was not kidding! We set down our towels, popped on our snorkel gear and dropped in the water to at least try to see some fish. After having 3 people swim into us and fighting a fairly strong current we decided that this is not really the “peaceful” snorkeling experience we are accustom to and after about 30 minutes we decided to dry off and hike back. We watched a large group of 10 file past us, they had beach chairs, coolers, beach toys, noodles, and bags of food and towels. I’m not sure where they thought that hey we’re going to set up, but I don’t think that they realized that this area is not a sandy and open beach. It is a trail, with large boulders, a rocky beach and path that is narrow and currently well traveled by many. By the look on some faces of this group, they were a bit annoyed at whomever had the idea to take that hike.
Back at the parking lot we had a snack and talked about how unusual it was to see so many people. We all needed some peace and quiet so we headed back to the house. Our dinner that night was a beautiful prime rib we had brought from home in our checked cooler. The meal was amazing, and we hit the pillow early as we had a big day of snorkeling on our “lap of St John” planned the next day with an early start.