Welcome Back to St. Thomas, Mon!

A couple years ago, Greg and I ran off to the Virgin Islands for the first time. We'd found a nice looking resort on the Internet called Sapphire Beach Resort & Marina. A wonderful resort with an incredible LONG white sand beach and a coral reef RIGHT THERE! It was a beautifully, relaxing week...in paradise...and we couldn't wait until we could go back.

So for our 5th anniversary, Greg gave us a trip back! It was even better than the first time, because now we were more familiar and more comfortable there. This time we got a room at the far, quiet end of the resort, which was wonderful! And this time, Greg rented a plane and we got a chance to fly around and see the islands from above. How beautiful!

Learn more about visiting the USVI here, from the weekly guide, and here, from the official tourist site.

 

The day we arrived, late Wed night, was the 50th Anniversary of St. Thomas Carnival! The city was alive with partiers AND sailors!

The next morning, it appeared that shore leave was over as we saw the Navy pulling out.

Ahh...the day is just dawning and we see welcoming loungers awaiting us on the beach below our balcony.

Last time we were closer to the main end of the resort. It was beautiful, but always more people around most of the day. Click HERE to see the pictures from our first trip to this resort.

This time we were at the Marina end. And despite all the boats, it was wonderfully quiet.

Our view from one of our TWO balconies! We'd sleep each night with the sliding doors open so the constant sound of the waves breaking on the shore would lull us to sleep.

I've been to Hawaii a few times, the Bahamas and Jamaica. They're wonderful.

But the Virgin Islands ARE paradise!

The view across to St. John island.

So beautiful.

HA! More sailors.

Weddings are held out on that peninsula.

In fact, while we were here, an island couple had their wedding out there and later had their reception in the lounge at the hotel.

We, in our island gear of swim suits, got to sit at the bar and enjoy the wedding, too.

Greg enjoying the morning view.

Nice way to wake up, eh?

The view from our upstairs bathroom.

This time, our room was a duplex.

The bedroom was upstairs, along with a huge closet, full bath, studio couch, large desk, high ceiling and track lighting, as well as ceiling fans to circulate the wonderfully cold air conditioning.

A balcony, complete with two loungers and end tables, overlook the Caribbean Sea.

Down the stairway to the main level.

Here we have the rest of the living area.

And a second, larger balcony, also complete with two more loungers with end tables.

As well as a second large bathroom with a shower large enough for a party! Which is great cos' you spend a lot of time taking quick showers to wash off the sea salts that quickly dry on your skin.

A full kitchen, including microwave and all the dishes you need to cook here if you want. A quick taxi ride into Red Hook and you can load up with groceries for the week.

OR...you can relax and let someone else cook. There are great restaurants right here at the resort, too!

A wonderful breakfast buffet, great steaks and sea food, and a bar and grill for burgers and snacks. And of course, room service!

Another couch down here.

Dining table.

TV, with cable, in the cabinet.

And this incredible view!

The balconies are a great place to relax if you're not up for going down to the beach or the duplex, waterfall pool!

A perfect place for a vacation snooze.

This view is looking down the beach to the pool. The Steakhouse bar, grill and restaurant resides along side the beautiful two-level pool.

The pool even has seats along one side with a bar cabaña.

Down at the main beach, resort guests can rent floats, snorkel gear, wind sails, and all types of water fun gear. Most rentals are free to registered guests.

Someone heading out for the day on a wave runner. Greg and I rented one our last day. It was a riot!

We should have done it earlier in the week cos' I know we would have gone out more, it was such fun! You can rent them right down at the marina.

Check out the colors in that water!

And these pictures don't even do them justice!

Too Beautiful!

Many times while walking from the restaurants and bars back to our room along the beach, we would stop and stare out toward the water. Struck by how incredible the colors could be!

The view from our balcony. See that dark spot on the right side? That's a big mushroom coral.

Greg and I snorkeled around that a lot to visit our fishy friends.

See, this is what that black spot in the above picture looks like, from under the water! (Pictures from our underwater camera.)

Tons of fish AND moray eels living inside this thing. You'd look between the clusters and some fish OR eel would be sitting inside the holes!

Of course, the day we decide to take pics, only some of the smaller guys were out.

Previous days, we see lots of big fish hanging out.

But if we did want to see the bigger fish and more of them, we could have easily gone over to the larger reef area just to the left or right. But we were feeling a little lazy this day.

Note the white urchin in the middle. This was a small one. We saw some HUGE ones, too! White or black ones.

Note the bazillions of tiny fish! They're everywhere!

Like swimming into a fishy fog. A very strange feeling!

They school around you in flowing waves of fish an scatter to open a place for you to swim through them. And close behind you. Pretty wild.

And speaking of strange!<smirk>

Hi Greg!

A little windy today.

But great for the parasailors.

You can also rent a ride on those right down at the marina.

The wedding peninsula.

OUR beach!

All that darkness is a coral reef. It looks shallow, but it's not. The water is just so clear you can see through it easily. Some incredible coral and fish in there!

In Hawaii and other places, you usually have to go somewhere else to snorkel, but you can easily do that right on the beach or go down to the marina and go on a real dive tour.

And let's not forget the leeezards, mon!

Why did the lizard cross the road?

To give me a good shot of one walking, of course!<g>

Another morning and it's a little, unusually, overcast. We'd had a storm in the wee hours of the morning.

Pretty cool watching it roll in. But the sun will burn off the clouds fairly soon.

Although we didn't realize the sun would always be out at the time.

Here Greg looks a bit concerned, hoping the weather will be nice so he can go flying.

He took a checkride when we were out in Seattle, but the weather turned nasty...wind and rain...so we never got to go fly together.

Our reef looking a little gray from the clouds.

But even clouds don't deter the parasailors.

Nor does it deter the snorkelers.

That's me, Dian, down there feeding the fish. A fact well recognized because the seagulls start to gather.

When they see someone out there with a bag of fish food (dry dog food), they come runnin'.

See what I mean!

You punch holes in the baggy to get the food wet and squeeze it under the water to release chunks to the fish, who then come running for snacks.

But some still floats and the gulls are there to get what the fish miss.

But the wind is picking up and the waves are making it a little hard to swim, especially when the wave splashes over your snorkel!

So I head back to wait for the sun and calmer seas, again.

And sure enough, it soon starts clearing up.

How beautiful!

Nice view from our room, eh?

And with the clearing comes Mr. Pelican looking for lunch.

They dive into the water and scoop up all those beautiful fish.

Check out our other USVI pics to see an animated graphic file showing a Pelican diving live into the water!

Pretty cool how they glide around and then spin their wings into a bullet shape and dive into the water!

One day I was laying in the water on a float and suddenly heard a SPLASH. I looked up to see one of these guys about 4 feet from me, just looking into the water like this guy, looking for lunch.

Freaked me out that he'd slammed into the water so close to me!

Pelicans can look pretty goofy standing around on a pole, but get them in the water or air and they're amazing and beautiful pros!

Beginning to expand his wings for take off.

Pulling out of the water...

...and away he goes!

Great wing shot, Greg! Especially since this picture was taken when Greg was way up back on our balcony and this guy was way out in the ocean!

Love my Sony digital video camera!

And SLAM...back into the water!

The gulls don't miss a trick! If this guy leaves any fish bits in the water, Mr. Gull will be there to pick up a free meal.

After slamming into the water, he'll also sit there and just look down and grab any fish he sees.

Gulp!

Anyone with a salt water fish tank can appreciate the fact that this guy is downing a few thousand dollars worth of beautiful tropical fish!

And he's off again.

But this time he's gliding kinda close to shore.

Wow! Greg's freaking out as he sees this guy flying right at him on the balcony.

INCOMING!

How wild! Check it out!

See him in the upper, right corner of this picture! We've never seen one fly this close!

In fact, he flies right over Greg!

Pretty wild! I'm sure Greg was wondering if the guy was ticked off at him for taking his picture?

Although maybe he saw the light on the front of the camera and flew in for a closer look? That happen to me in the bat house at the zoo, once.

And now he's probably out there laughing his butt off thinking about how he freaked Greg out!

More wildlife! These little guys often are found zipping across the balconies.

Trying to look tough to scare me away.

They bob their heads and tails up and down to look big and threatening.

Sorry, bud, you're just not that scary, yet!

Jump in a taxi van and we're off to Charlotte Amalie, the main harbor town to go down to the main airport so Greg can fly us around the islands.

Charlotte Amalie (Ah-MAHL-yah) was named in honor of the wife of the ruling Dutch King Christian V.

This is a main stop on most all the Caribbean cruises.

Coming down into town.

In the 1800s, Charlotte Amalie was one of the busiest ports; a trading center of the West Indies and a free port to many buccaneers who were allowed to sell their booty on the market streets.

In 1917, during World War I, the US bought the Virgin Islands for a total of $25 million in gold, to prevent them from becoming a German base.

Very pretty.

Fort Christian, dates back to the 1670s, when it was the only construction in the port.

This Danish-built fortress is the oldest building still in use on St. Thomas. Once a fort, later a jail. It now houses a museum.

You can climb to the top for a view of the harbor; one of the most impressive views anywhere in Charlotte Amalie.

 

Very pretty buildings down here. Lots of bright colors and European style.

And the street markets still thrive.

The Grand Galleria was built in 1841 as the Grand Hotel. An excellent example of 19th-century architecture.

The structure occupies an entire block and served as a hotel until 1975.

It was renamed the Grand Galleria in 2000 and now houses shopping and several restaurants and office space.

Told you this place was for lovers!<g>

Still a free port, or duty free port, there are lots of gold, diamonds and gem stores.

If you're into expensive jewelry, THIS is the place to come buy it.

And don't the ships STILL know this is a popular place to bring their guests so they can shop.

And party! At the many bars and restaurants along the harbor, like the St. Thomas Hard Rock Cafe.

But this is what catches Greg's eye. Seaborne Aviation!

For $85, you can fly to other islands for the day. Or there are regular ferries you can take.

But this is where we're headed. The big boy airport.

We arrive on the other side of the airport, at the general aviation center.

But traffic wasn't as bad as we thought now that the carnival is over. So we're very early.

We hike down the road to find a tiny bar to rest while we wait for the clock to roll around a bit.

Time to hike back. Greg freaks when he sees this plane.

Note the propellers are in the BACK.

And the front looks like a hammer head shark, although it's hard to see in this bright light.

It's a Piaggio P180 Avanti and you can see a better picture HERE.

We easily find Ace Flight Center (P.O. Box 4021, St. Thomas, VI 00803; Ph: 340-776-4141)

Ace is run by their chief pilot, Cleo Hodge, CFII, MEI, ATP, FAA Pilot Examiner.

Greg set up his flight with Fritz, pictured here with Greg going over the maps.

Fritz Marburger, CFI, A&I, MEI, a very nice guy, is an instructor for Ace. He's a former FedX pilot who was a Seabee in Korea and later learned to fly. He moved to the island to retire from flying. That retirement lasted just a month!<g>

Fritz spend time showing us all the places we can and can't fly, as well as sharing some lore of the areas.

But for a few dollars more, he'll go with us. That's cool cos' then Greg can log those hours with an instructor and he can enjoy the flight more without worrying about getting lost since Fritz knows the area so well.

Greg and Fritz continue to go over the flight path and we learn some history about the places we'll be seeing.

If you're a pilot and thinking about flying around the USVI, here's another article to give an additional perspective about flying with Ace. In fact, that's the same article Greg read...after we returned the first time...that enticed him to plan on flying for this trip.

I head outside for a smoke and to play with the leeezards!<g>

Ugly sucker, eh?

I think I arrived in the middle of lunch.

They don't have teeth, but have very strong jaws that tear off what they want.

And if you go down there, DON'T paint your toe nails red! They think your toes are berries and you might come home minus a few piggies!

Yeah? Well, same to YOU, bud!

Time to get the plane ready. It's complete with life jackets and raft.

And Greg is told to put the tire blocks under his seat. Then, in case we have to ditch in the water, he should put the blocks in the door in the hopes that the door will rip off so we can easily get out. Joy!

But, although this is an older plane, the engine is new. Not rebuilt, new!

Greg's impressed with how well the plane handles. So much so, he makes a point of thanking the lead mechanic when we return for a job very well done maintaining the planes.

Lots of other cool planes that I'll let Greg tell you about.

Beech Baron B55 in gorgeous condition.
This, and...

...this...are old C-47s (DC-3 variant) that are still in service in the region.

Since there's no real agriculture on the islands, these old airplanes serve an important purpose in moving things like poultry, etc., to the islands.

This shot is for Greg.

As a former Air Force mechanic, Greg used to spend most of his days rebuilding planes.

So I knew he'd enjoy seeing a close up shot of some plane guts.<g>

Either an older Baron or a later Twin Bonanza. Either way, you don't see too many aircraft from the late 50s-, early 60s, era.

This one looks like someone has kept up with it and the salt spray.

Piper Aztec departing to the East.

Beech King Air.

Our taxi driver didn't like small airplanes due to an uncomfortable ride through a storm in one of these. I don't blame him, but it's hard for me to look at that airplane and think "small!"

Greg and Fritz go over the layout of the controls on this plane.

Time to talk to the tower and get ready to go.

Right after a few big boys get out of our way.

No problem...you first!

Greg starts peddling as fast as he can!<smirk>

We're next...

...and we're off!

Pretty cool seeing those big boys down there, since we usually take off/land at smaller airports.

Cyril E. King Airport, St. Thomas. That's where we were when we landed and we'll be there again, too soon, when we leave.

They don't look so big from up here.

Let's spy on them!<hee, hee>

Check out the water. It's so clear, you can see the reefs down through the water.

Beautiful!

This is the Marriott Resort on St. Thomas.

Every cove is filled with boats.

And this is our resort! This is Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina from the air.

Note the wedding peninsula and the harbor walkway down at the far end.

That last red building at the topmost of the pic is our building "E". Last time we were in the first one, "A".

It's a beautiful, relaxing, fun place to stay!

That's still our resort to the lower left and around the island in that harbor area is Red Hook...the closest town to Sapphire, with shopping and restaurants, about 5 mins by taxi.

It's so cool looking down into the ocean and being able to see through the water like this!

We fly over St. John, the second of 3 Virgin Islands. This is the one we can see across the way from our balcony. (St. Croix is the third island in the USVI chain.)

Sit back and enjoy the flight!

That's a boat down there.

And again, note how you can see the rest of the islands UNDER the water!

Now flying along Sir Francis Drake Channel. So named because this is where he hid his ships when pirating, err, I mean marauding other nation's shipping merchandise.

Note the CAVES in the lower, right of the picture, on Peter Island. These caves used to hid the pirate booty!

You can see how pirates would like this spot!

Again, note the peninsula with the caves.

 

Beef Island. We've now entered the British Virgin Island airspace and Greg filed a flight plan with the British air controllers.

"They are a nice bunch of very cooperative chaps, but their gear makes English unintelligible.<g> It sounds like they bought their radio equipment from an old McDonald's drive-thru!

"Good thing we had a 'translator (Fritz) along."

If you've ever bought anything from Amway, you helped PAY for this island. The owner of Amway owns it!

That's his house...that tiny white dot on the far top hill. And below is the Amway resort, where their top sales folks go as an incentive.

Here's a close up of the resort. Not bad, eh?

Ginger Island.

Virgin Gorda Island looking down on Spanish town. Biggest bunch of boulders I've ever seen.

The Virgin Gorda Airport of Entry is in the Picture. It's the tan stripe that's about midway up the wing strut on our plane, along the shoreline of the island.

They no longer allow single engine planes with passengers to land on this strip since the Governor of the British Virgin Islands died there during a botched landing in a single engine plane.

Pajaros Point, Virgin Gorda Island, British Virgin Islands.

Marina Cay, Tortola, BVI.

That's a whole resort right on that tiny island in the middle!

Note the houses built along the ridges of the mountains.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Megens Bay on the north side of St. Thomas.

(I didn't bother taking too many pictures as we flew back along the other side, as I wanted to enjoy the flight MYSELF, without worrying about taping.)

The flight's almost over. There's our runway! Yup, that piece of land laying out there in the water!

Fritz gives Greg a few instruction about how to land here.

And here we go!

This was a real trip the first time we landed here in a big plane cos' we were nearly ON the water and I couldn't see any land yet from the side windows of the jet!

Freaked me out!

But Greg does a beautiful landing.

HA! The Miami Heat's plane!

HA! The Gestapo! You land...you pay!

After, we head out for a smoke to wait for our taxi while Greg and Fritz discuss the flight.

Fritz said he was impressed with Greg's flying! And noted a congrats to Greg's instructor, on teaching Greg so well, in Greg's log book.

(Dan Adams is Greg's instructor, from Westosha Flying Club, in Wilmot, WI.)

Now WHAT the hell is this picture?

Let's zoom into that tiny white dot and check it out.

Well, it's the man in the moon and he's wearing dark sun glasses!<g>

We enjoyed beautiful, full moon lit nights with the moonlight shining wonderfully off the sea.

The next day is beautiful, as usual.

The sun burns off the clouds, but it's our last full day. After 6 glorious days of balmy breezes and hot sun, it's time to go back to rainy, 45 degree Chicago, tomorrow!

We lay out the last of the bread for the birds.

Who quickly gather and accept our gifts.

But we ain't leaving without one last night of Voodoo Juice!

PARTY!

I inform Doc, our Steakhouse bartender, that he'll be on the Internet.

He immediately becomes the resort representative...Welcome to St. Thomas!

Our waitress last night, and a wonderful lady, Adrianna.

Waitress by night, government accountant by day! And mother of a few good boys, she tells us.

Everyone at Sapphire is so nice and friendly!

Hey...my Voodoo is almost gone!

What's Voodoo Juice? It's one glass, filled with FIVE kinds of flavored rum and a splash of cranberry, orange and pineapple juice.

Voodoo Juice
1 oz Cruzan Orange Rum
1 oz Cruzan Banana Rum
1 oz Cruzan Coconut Rum
1 oz Cruzan Pineapple Rum
1.5 oz cranberry juice
1.5 oz orange juice
1.5 oz pineapple juice

Pour over ice and top with a floater of Cruzan Dark Rum!

See....

Cruzan Rum is the Virgin Islands own rum! For more wonderful recipes, like Orange Colada, Jumbie Brew, Mama Wana, Banana-nana, Caribbean Breeze, Pina Colada Martini and Latin Love...check out the Cruzan web site.

...and more...

...a few splashes...

...can't forget the fruit...

...and voila! You'll soon be dancing to the beat of a distant drum!<lol>

SOOO good! But lethal!

Berit Andresen of Scansail Yachts, who we met that night.

She's a yacht sales rep from Germany here for training. Nice training location, eh?

Janice...another friend we met that night.

Her boyfriend, who was waiting for her to return from the bar, but we were stalling her gabbing<g>, is a member of the Amazing Lounge Lizards band.

The next morning, we VERY sadly start our journey home.

Our van mates to the airport, to the bar and through to San Juan.

Who were both very nice travelmates and I'm SO sorry I forgot their names!!!

(Hey guys...if you see this, please email me so I can correct this terrible oversight! Hope you made it home, safely!)

Until next time, St. Thomas!

And we WILL be back, soon!