St Thomas 2020
The Planning stages....
After a lot of research and planning, we decided St Thomas would be our destination for our Spring/Summer vacation wrapped up all in one trip. Kendra decided her and the family would tag along with us. It had been awhile since they had a vacation and a pretty long time since her fiance had went on any vacation with her when she goes with us.
We first came to St Thomas back in 2010 on our very first cruise together (without Sakari) and fell in love with Sapphire beach. I wrote a review on it and said at that moment, I knew this was a place I would love to come back to and stay for a land vacation. Well, it only took me 10 years and a national pandemic to make that dream come true finally. You can read my review here from back in 2010 if interested.
As always, she left me to do most of the planning. With time ticking away like a short fuse on a bomb ready to go off, I would try to go over my findings for a place to stay, air flight, things to do, and even small details such as car rental, she would continue to put me off because she was busy that day...or the next...or the following week. She always has something going on...even if it's just sleeping until 2pm. I would continue to plan to the point where we had to keep pushing our dates out more because things were filling up quickly. She decided she wanted to be gone the week of "B"s birthday (Brayden). He would be turning 12 and she thought it would be great to give this to him as a present. Sakari quickly reminded me that we were to be on a cruise during her 12th birthday in April, but that was cancelled...and the day of her birthday we were supposed to be in Labadee riding the rollercoaster, ziplining and possibly parasailing but hey, let Brayden have all the glory for his birthday instead.
When searching for air flights, we found that Southwest (which we fly for free with) did not go to St Thomas. Eek! Airlines are super crazy with their pricing there EXCEPT for Spirit. I have heard great negative things about this airline so I was less than thrilled about trying a new airline out...especially this one. We really didn't have a choice so in the end, we used our Southwest points to book a flight down to Orlando, stay over night, then take Spirit down to STT the following day. No matter how you try to get down in the same day, it wasn't happening. After booking our flights there and figuring that out, I would continue to hear bad stories (recent) about Spirit cancelling their flights for unknown reasons and also people getting to STT but flights cancelled coming home. I was honestly petrified that this wasn't going to go well...but I booked anyhow. You know me, a risk taker! On the way home, we just decided to book Spirit all the way with a 3 1/2 hour lay over in FLL.
The more we searched, the longer we decided to stay. I mean after all, we had to get the best rate for airflight and for our dates, which meant we should leave on this date (earlier) and stay until this date (later), which in the end we ended up with almost 2 glorious weeks booked for paradise!
I also joined a facebook group for St Thomas and thought I could gather some insight to places to stay, things to do, and a good reliable car rental company. Boy was I in for a surprise when reading all the locals comments to every person that came on asking a question about coming to the island. They didn't want outsiders coming, rude comments to everyone who posted saying "how about you just stay home" and really degrading remarks that really made me think twice about going there. I mean it was really ridiculous and very rude. I understand people are scared of the covid, I understand there are people out there not wanting to cover their faces and not heeding to the rules when out in public for social distancing and so on. I also understand they are a small island with limited resources, but the comments I would read from a majority of people were just plain RUDE and unnecessary! I booked anyhow...you know me, once again, a risk taker! But we would take our mask, abide by the rules when in public, and social distance! We would be going to the grocery store to buy food and making most of our meals at home away from others. I also knew that the governor had decided that beaches were to be closed on weekends after 4pm...as the locals made fun of him saying "because covid doesn't come out until 4pm, so everyone must leave"! Honestly, I thought it was a silly rule because closing them early just meant EVERYONE would be herding to the beaches to get their beach time in before it closes!
The next thing was the governor was watching the hot spots in the US mainland. His next order was that any state over the 10% positive rate would be required to get a negative COVID test 48 hours prior to arrival in STT, which later changed to 72 hours. OR you could bring a positive antibodies test instead. I watched the list like a hawk every day because it changed daily. There were a lot of questions about layover in the states that were 10% positive and any requirements (and either people of STT didn't have any answer, or they had multiple different answers and none of them were the same), but I personally called the USVI Department of Health and Tourism, who has set up a hotline to answer questions, and they stated they only go by your home state you reside in...unless you are staying in one of the states for more than 7 days prior to arrival. If you have any questions, here is there information/hotline.
We scoured airbnb and vrbo and after weeks of trying to decide AND find 2 places that were open during our time frame, we found a lady who actually owned 2 airbnb places right on the beach at Sapphire! We ended up booking with her for both of her places (outside of airbnb) and saved a bunch of money by not having to pay their fees. One of the condo's was right on the beach and the other was around the corner in front of the pool in between the beach and the marina. Not as close as we wanted them to be, but good enough. Just know, there are limited places to stay that are directly on the beach. You can find plenty of places to stay with terrific views, but it required you to drive to get to a beach!
The following is not my picture, but one I found on the internet that shows the layout of the condo's along the beach (and one at the marina).
I decided that I had to have a place on the beach. I figured walking right out and having the beach right there with snorkeling at any time of the day was more important than a pool. I would take the condo in building A. The beach bar/restaurant and small store/coffee/breakfast shop were right next door. I was aware that, because of COVID, the weekend band would NOT be playing at this time to reduce gatherings...and of course you couldn't be on the beach after 4pm.
Kendra would end up getting the condo in building D, right in front of the pool. Both condo's were on the corners in the buildings and I must say this was AMAZING! It let you have a nice breeze any time of the day by sitting on that side of the condo instead of the front portion of the condo (which you would be stuck with if you were in any of the middle sections of the condo's).
I had to do a lot of research for car rental agencies in St Thomas and I was getting really worried that we were not going to find any place that had anything available. Either they were not answering me or telling me everything was rented for my dates. The thought of being stranded at the condo for 2 weeks straight was giving me palpitations! I need my beach hopping time in! I started asking about the $1 bus only to find out that it goes in a circle and places that it stops at involve some walking to get to the beach areas, which I can not do. Taxi's were going to get pretty expensive for a family of 7 since they charge by the person and not by the carload like in Cozumel.
Finally I was able to get a response from a company with a mini van (the only other response I received that wasn't a "no availability" was for 2 vehicles and double the price! We took the minivan. I will play soccer mom for the week and chauffeur all my kids and grandkids around. All while driving on the LEFT side of the road!! OH EM GEE! I had totally forgotten about that. Now my heart was really racing and my head was pounding. Just the thought of pulling out in traffic, accidentally forgetting and going down the wrong side and possibly hitting someone and did I even mention the hills??? Yikes! I would have a bad case of anxiety just thinking about this for the next several weeks before our arrival.
So our rental company of choice was (I wanted to give them a shout out now because they were amazing from start (emails) to finish (dropping the van off) was MY CAR RENTAL VI and we dealt with "Cat" from the very beginning. She answered my questions quickly, was friendly, called and even texted me, and had everything done ahead of time so that all we had to do was get picked up, a 5-10 minute stop at the office and we were on our way to vacation! She was amazing! Click the link below to visit their website.
The only other thing I needed to do was to get Sakari a good snorkeling/scuba mask. She has been snorkeling and scuba diving for years now blindly and I never really realized just how bad her eyesight was until she decided one day last year she wanted to get glasses. So, off to her scuba place in town to get fitted and a prescription glass in each side (which of course had to be different). But, she's now equipped with the goods to see every critter out there in the ocean.
Now the one thing that I knew I wanted to do for sure was to scuba dive there. Last time we dove in St Thomas we went to Coki Dive Center. It was our first experience with Discover Scuba Dive (and Sakari and Brayden's first experience in the ocean I believe). It took awhile to get used to for both me and Kendra but I've come a long way since then and no longer freak out at trying to learn to breathe the dry air. It was a great place to see a lot of fish and corals. It was like swimming in an aquarium. However, there was a strong current at the time that actually ended up with my husband being pulled back to shore by one of the instructors while we went on. I really wanted to dive with them again and knew it would be even a better experience however, I had to keep Kendra in mind. I knew that diving at Secret Harbor would provide for a better experience for her because they said they only went down 20'. Reluctantly I ended up booking with Aqua Action at Secret Harbor for the sake of kendra and I knew that Sakari had been liking the more shallow dives lately as well (only because she has struggled with her ears off and on since she was 8 years old...however, she doesn't seem to have much of a problem with them lately...but just in case, 20' would help her out a lot).
Ok, now we were ready for vacation with everything booked that needed to be....or were we???
About a week prior to leaving, I just discovered (and had completely forgot) that we needed to book a place to stay at for our layover in Orlando. Oh my! Oops!
I started looking for a cheap place, because our flights coming in to MCO was late at night and honestly all we needed was a place to sleep and a place to be able to get food. I ended up deciding to stay at the hotel right there within the airport: Hyatt Regency International Airport. I've always thought it looked really nice there, but expensive of course. But, it was worth a shot and I found that it had an AMAZING rate for our stay! I was so excited about it! We booked and NOW we were done and ready for vacation!