We just visited St. Thomas on our previous cruise in April (click here to read that blog post), so for this recent cruise we decided to take the ferry over to the island of St. John. We looked at it as the opportunity to check off another island on our bucket list.

From the Charlotte Amalie cruise port we shared a 20-minute taxi ride with a few other ship passengers to the town of Red Hook on the far eastern tip of St. Thomas. It is from Red Hook that the ferry to Cruz Bay, St. John departs. For just $7.00 one-way we experienced a delightful ride across Pillsbury Sound...

Oh, how beautiful is Cruz Bay! As we glided towards the pier, we passed sailboats moored in the multi-shaded turquoise water with St. Thomas behind us...

The small beach to the left of the ferry dock is lined with a row of swaying palm trees...

Instead of booking a shore excursion we rented a jeep so we could explore the island on our own. It is easy to get a jeep rental on the island. Just off the pier there are taxi drivers and jeep rental representatives waiting for tourists' business. We were taken to Bougainvillea Leasing Company, where for $88.75 we were able to rent a Jeep Wrangler with automatic transmission and air conditioning. The real fun of the car rental: They drive on the left side of the road on St. John!

How much fun is it to explore an island on your own?  You can stop when you want to take in gorgeous views of Cruz Bay like this...

It is very easy to drive on St. John (excluding of course remembering to stay to the left). The hilly, curvy North Shore Road is true to its name: it runs along the north shore of the island. Every mile is a different famous beach. We started at Hawksnest Bay Beach.

Idyllic! Crystal-clear water, sugar-soft sand.

We continued driving east along the North Shore Road; our plan was to stop at each of the famous beaches for a few minutes to walk along the shore and take photos. However, three issues prevented us from doing that:

First: We arrived at Trunk Bay, but we were put off by the sign showing there is a $5.00 per person fee. Now, if we were planning to spend the afternoon at Trunk Bay Beach, we would have no issue paying the $10.00, but we only wanted to walk along the beach for a few minutes and take some photos.

Therefore, we skipped Trunk Bay Beach and drove on towards Cinnamon Bay Beach and Maho Bay Beach. Here is where we encountered the second issue: lack of parking. Believe it when you read the complaints by visitors renting cars only to discover full parking lots by the time they reach the most popular beaches. It's true.

So we were only able to photograph the beaches from the roadside pull-offs...here is the long stretch of Maho Beach.
Since we were unable to visit the other beaches due to lack of parking, we decided to go back to Trunk Bay and pay the fee because there was parking available there. That is when we encountered our third issue: rain. The dark clouds came in, a heavy rain fell which basically ended our tour of the beaches. We even returned back to Hawksnest Beach because of the parking availability and no fees, but the rain continued.  By this time, it was getting to be the time when we had to start our return back to the ship, so we decided to return the jeep. Of course, that is when the rain stopped and the sun returned!

We still had a wonderful day on St. John. The views of the crystal-clear, multi-iridescent water are incredible...

and the buildings on St. John are so Caribbean colorful.

We will visit the Virgin Islands on another cruise later in 2016 and plan to return to St. John to complete our beach explorations even if we have to scuffle for a parking space.

Thank you for visiting.

A Great Europe Trip Planner

All photos were taken by my husband and me in December, 2015. Unauthorized use is prohibited.



In my previous post I mentioned our visit to the Chicago Botanic Gardens' Wonderland Express, the annual holiday display of model trains meandering through replicas of the famous skyscrapers and historic landmarks of Chicagoland, all of which are made of natural materials. The craftsmanship is just amazing; the details and use of natural materials so unique. Here are some of my favorite buildings and landmarks:

As a train crosses over the Michigan Avenue Bridge, replicas of famous skyscrapers such as the Sears Tower, Tribune Tower, AON Building and John Hancock Building stand along miniature conifer trees and poinsettia plants.

Behind the replica of Chicago's Union Station sit the Chase Tower and the Wrigley Building with its clock tower.

The detailing on the building replicas is so exact: even the famous Art Institute lions, with their unusual names of "On The Prowl" and "In An Attitude of Defiance", have on their Christmas wreaths.

Both the Museum of Science and Industry...

and the Field Museum were surrounded by miniature conifer trees, poinsettias and other festively-colored plants.

The trellis criss-crossing over the Great Lawn of the Pritzker Pavillion lies in front of the curls-of-tree-bark, Frank Gehry-designed band shell. It's all surrounded by small lighted conifer trees and multiple-colored poinsettias.

It's winter, so the new Maggie Daley skating ribbon has to be featured.

It's quiet now that the Bears season is over, but the stadium looks beautiful surrounded by poinsettias and dwarf fir trees.

Not only is the Michael Jordan statue in front of the old Chicago Stadium, but a tour bus holds a replica of one of the Blackhawk's Stanley Cups.

Plants such as Blue Carpet Juniper surround the famous Water Tower.

The Chicago History Museum is surrounded with beautiful greenery and bright red poinsettias.

Chicago is the home of President Obama, and his family home looks festive surrounded with beautiful red plants 

There's even a miniature replica of the Picasso sculpture.

This video shows you how volunteers and experts assemble the tracks, trains, greenery and buildings and how it all comes together, down to the snow falling on the delight visitors, both young and old.

Wonderland Express is open annually from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the New Year's weekend.

Thank you for visiting.

A Great Europe Trip Planner

All photos were taken by me. Unauthorized use is prohibited.



We recently made a return visit to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. It seems we never fail to pleasantly discover something else in addition to the main reason for our visit. We were at the Botanic Gardens to experience the holiday tradition of the Wonderland Express, the annual display of holiday model trains traveling throughout Chicago, including famous skyscrapers and historic landmarks. All buildings are constructed of natural materials: gourds, pine cones, bark, acorns, pods, seeds, grains, grasses, and other creatively-used bits of nature. Like the summertime Model Railroad Garden, surrounding the buildings are beautiful seasonal plants and flowers.

Being the holiday season, another treat we discovered were the twenty or so handmade wreaths hanging on the gallery walls. All made by horticulturists and staff of the gardens. I thought I would share some of the most beautiful and interesting wreaths:

Just a last bit of holiday cheer...

Thank you for visiting.

A Great Europe Trip Planner

All photos were taken by me. Unauthorized use is prohibited.