Jon Bowermaster: Dispatches from St.John – Day 1

I’ve been lucky over the years to plan my work/travel calendar in order to miss the worst of New York’s winters, specifically the entire month of February. This year, early that month, I panicked, realizing that I had no plan … that I was at home in the Catskills, locked down under damp, gray, twenty degree skies, day after day. So I did the only rationale thing possible for someone with deep connections in the travel world: I contacted friends who manage a resort in the Caribbean and asked if they had any room available. Which led in short order to the U.S. Virgin island of St. John, where I’d been once before. As close a hop as the Caribbean is from New York, my knowledge of the place is surprisingly thin so I went back to what I knew.

Days after daydreaming of islands, I was ensconced in a tented camp at Maho Bay Camps, standing on my small deck overlooking Little Maho Bay on a bright and sunny morning, staring into the trees that surround fill every morning with sizable iguanas, napping and munching.


St. John is just twenty square miles around, smaller than the Dallas Fort Worth airport or the island of Manhattan. Originally home to Arawak, Carib and Taino Indians today the volcanic knob is home to 4,500 who share 39 beaches and scores of trails carved through jungle forests, mangrove swamps and scrubby, cactus-dotted hills with a million tourists each year. Two-thirds of the island is officially national park thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s signature on Public Law 925, establishing it on August 2, 1956.

(Which had nothing to do with the naming of the trio of islands that comprise the USVI – St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. Why Virgin Islands, anyway? One theory has them named in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, inspired by the unspoiled-ness of the place, after the legend of St. Ursula, the 14th century British princess and Christian who along with 11,000 virgins suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Huns. Others theorize they were named by Sir Francis Drake, who sailed through in 1595, and dubbed them for Queen Elizabeth, known as the Virgin Queen.)

Prior to the U.S. buying the three islands from Denmark in 1917 (for a mere $24 million), Europeans had been here for a couple centuries (what happened to the Taino is another mystery; they had lived here for nearly 1,000 years but when Columbus sailed by he reported no human population). In the 1700s the Dutch and Danish built big sugar cane plantations on the islands, using Danish prisoners to do the work. When they suffered from disease and conditions and died, the landowners began the import of slaves from Africa. By 1733 there were more than 1,000 slaves working more than 100 plantations working on St. John alone, a scenario that continued despite a couple revolts until slavery was discontinued in 1848.

The American’s initial idea was to use them for a military base. But in the 1930s St. John was already being considered in some circles as a future national park. World wars slowed the official process. By 1950 the human population had fallen to less than 1,000 and 85 percent of the land had reverted to bush and second growth tropical forest when Laurence Rockefeller bought half of St. John and quickly deeded it to the park system. Today the USVI National Park owns 52 percent of the island, including 7,200 acres above ground and another 5,600 acres of underwater marine sanctuary. Thanks to its parkland status St. John is without question the wildest of all Caribbean islands, its natural life closest to what it was like 600 years ago when Columbus first sailed past.

10 great romantic destinations

Some people like to travel for food. Others prefer to travel for sun. Still others enjoy traveling so they can share a secluded destination with a loved one. Here are ten romantic destinations for couples of all ages to enjoy… together.

Verona, Italy
Located in the northeast part of Italy near the Swiss border, Verona is most famously known as the setting of William Shakespeare’s passionate Romeo and Juliet. Many tourists and lovers travel to Verona simply to see the balcony that has a historical connection to the fictional characters of that famous play. The covered passageway that leads to the balcony is covered in graffiti and letters from visitors asking Juliet for luck in love.

Visitors may also go googly-eyed with a romantic stroll over the Castelvecchio Bridge, along Verona’s winding Adige River. Be sure to walk all the way to St. Peter’s Castle for an awe-inspiring view of the city shrouded in sunset.

St John, USVI
There are numerous secretive retreats in the Virgin Islands, but Moon Cottage is said to be the Caribbean’s “most romantic villa.” Located on the island of St. John, Moon Cottage offers lovers a hidden getaway and is the perfect place for couples to expand their relationship. Amenities include a private heated pool, walking distance to the beach, and complete seclusion.

For those seeking to mix some adventure with their passion, consider a day-trip to Jost van Dyke, the “New York of the Virgin Islands,” and home to (quite possibly) the world’s most amazing bar.
Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Routinely selected as among the world’s best beaches, Kauai is the oldest and the most northern of all the Hawaiian Islands; it’s also the least populated of the islands. Kauai was given the nickname of the “Garden Isle” because of its lush tropical forests. This is ideal for couples because lovers can spend time together in a quieter, more secluded setting, unlike other, busier islands in Hawaii.

Though dining options on Kauai may be a bit unromantic, there are countless ways to wile away serene hours in Kauai with a loved one.

Los Roques, Venezuela

Los Roques is great for lovers, because the secluded beaches offer the chance for couples to enjoy the sun… and each other.

Los Roques is Venezuela’s archipelago in the Caribbean. It’s most famous for its beautiful beaches — and even more beautiful water. This is a great place for lovers to visit because of the limitless secluded beaches offer the chance for couples to enjoy the sun… and each other.

In fact, the most popular activity on Los Roques is to be dropped off in the morning with a cooler filled with food and drink, and just spend the day exploring the uninhabited island on which you (and your partner) find yourself.

Napa Valley, California, USA
Famous for its wineries and cozy bed and breakfasts, Napa is the perfect couple’s getaway.

Lovers can visit local wineries, take tours, have dinner in various restaurants with cuisine ranging from French to Italian, then cozy up next to each other in front of a fire at one of the many local bed and breakfasts.

Venice, Italy
Located in northern Italy, this city is best known for its gondolas and canals. Lovers can take a tour of the city while sitting on velvet seats and Persian rugs. Though not the quickest way around the city, a gondola ride is certainly the most romantic.

An estimated 20 million people visit the sinking city every year, but Conde Nast has an excellent overview of the city, which includes details about disappearing within Venice’s ancient walls with your lover.

San Luis Obispo, California, USA

San Luis Obispo, along the Central Coast of California, is home to the famous Madonna Inn. The Madonna Inn has 110 rooms, each decorated with a different theme; there’s also a European style pool and a beautiful day spa, and it’s all located just minutes from San Luis Obispo. Couples can enjoy unique food, art and culture in town, or they can visit the Hearst Castle.

Paris, France
Paris offers couples seemingly endless options: Lovers can visit the Eiffel Tower, see a ballet or opera show, dine on fine French cuisine by candle light, take photographs to share later, or visit the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.


New York City, New York, USA
This is the ideal romantic getaway for the couple that likes to be active. Lovers can catch a show on Broadway, take a carriage ride through Central Park, and then grab a coffee in Rockefeller Center. The city is full of restaurants and fabulous hotels for couples as well, including many romantic places and bars.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
All-Inclusive is the way to go. Many resorts in Cabo San Lucas offer an all-inclusive package. This is great for couples because not only do you get a room for two, but food and beverages are all included. Lovers can enjoy the beaches and night-life without any hassle.

If you’re thinking about Cabo as a destination, be sure to remember that at least one Cabo hotel offers in-room aphrodisiacs to help couples set the mood.


Of course, romance is what you make it. You don’t need to be in one of these cities to enjoy a romantic weekend with your lover. While these destinations help set the mood, nothing coos romance like simply paying unending attention to your significant other.

Photo of the Day (6-24-09)

With the heat of summer, a cool breeze is welcome. This photo of a sailboat jib captures that carefree quality of escaping heat and having time on one’s hands to enjoy a gorgeous day. Gadling’s own Willy Volk recently snapped this one in the Virgin Islands. Must be tough, but someone’s gotta do it. I particularly like the way the landscape in the background gives a hint at the location and how the blue stripe of the sail works along with the sky and the ocean in a study of blue. Read Willy’s post on Maho Bay Camps in St. John here.

If you have a photo to be considered for Photo of the Day, submit it here at Gadling’s Flickr Photo Pool. All sorts of subjects strike our fancy.

More on Caribbean travel

This Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch travel section is devoted to Caribbean travel. With this morning’s post on Caribbean vacations, written before the Sunday paper arrived on my front porch, I’m wondering if I’m getting a message.

One article, “Caribbean offers comfort for less cash” by David Swanson points out an option not mentioned in today’s earlier post–Tobago. After reading about all of Tobago’s high points, I’m hesitant to let the word out because, frankly, I want the bargains to be there when I show up.

Here’s why Tobago sounds fantastic:

  • the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere
  • more than 200 species of birds for birdwatching (tour suggestions are given)
  • plentiful water sports
  • beaches tucked back in coves
  • several less expensive lodging options than some other Caribbean destinations.
  • great food at affordable prices

In the same article, Swanson outlines other Caribbean deals, including Mexico.

  • Playa del Carmen, Mexico is offered up as a lively, urban option that includes a beach.
  • Negril, Jamaica is a place to head for rock cliffs and plentiful lodging options (but avoid spring break).
  • Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic has whale watching from mid-January to mid-March.
  • Bermuda, although technically not in the Caribbean, this island becomes cheaper in the winter starting this month. Although, the temperatures are cooler, the beauty is the same and activities like golfing cost substantially less money than during high season.

At the moment, the link to that article is not available but another feature article in the travel section touts the wonders of St. John.

According to Steve Stephens, even though St. John has undergone a boom in tourism development, ecological preservation has been a top priority. Virgin Islands Nationa Park makes up “two-thirds of the island.”