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Why It’s Better to Rent in St. John: Delayed Flights

I recommend renting a Jeep in Cruz Bay.

It’s a question that’s asked time and time again – is it better to rent a vehicle on St. John or over on St. Thomas? I understand that many of you prefer to start your vacation immediately upon landing. You’d like to hop in a Jeep at the airport and head to Red Hook, perhaps stopping for groceries along the way. Or maybe on the flip side, you’d like to hang out in St. Thomas for a few hours on departure day before flying out. One thing that you really need to consider when doing this is delayed flights. It’s happening a lot lately, which is why I strongly encourage everyone to reconsider renting a vehicle on St. Thomas.

Tomorrow’s island tour guests were scheduled to land today at 3:19 p.m. They were flying from Orlando to St. Thomas and were delayed. They finally landed at 7:49 p.m., four-and-a-half hours late. Luckily they rented a Jeep on St. John, but if they opted to rent it on St. Thomas, they would have had no way of getting it over to St. John.

The people ferry runs from Red Hook to Cruz Bay until 11 p.m. The car barge, on the other hand, runs until 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. depending on the season. This means that you really can’t land later than 6 p.m. in order to make that last barge, and that’s cutting it close in my opinion. It takes time to get off the plane and into the terminal. Some of you have to check bags, which can take 10 minutes or an hour. You just never know. Then you have to get and actually pick up your rental. And from there, it’s a good 35-40 minute drive from the airport to the car barge area.

I went to a wedding in Connecticut last weekend and was supposed to fly home Tuesday. Well a foot of snow delayed that plan, and it also delayed my original flight from JFK to STT. Rather than landing at 1:38 p.m., that flight landed at 5:43 p.m. For the folks who checked bags, they were really cutting it close if they opted to rent on St. Thomas and wanted to make that last barge.

Other island tour guests of mine flew on the Miami flight to St. Thomas last Sunday. When they arrived in the area, they were told the runway was closed, so they had to circle a bit. They circled so much that they were starting to run out of fuel, so they were diverted to San Juan to refuel. They finally landed at STT at 6:55 p.m., more than two hours late.

These are three situations over the past week that I am personally aware of. I am sure there have been more this year.

When I used to vacation here way back when, I always wanted to rent a Jeep on St. Thomas. I wanted to start my vacation immediately, so I completely get it. But it is simply not worth it. Parking is at a premium in St. Thomas. If you miss that last barge, you have to find a place where you can park overnight. (The parking garage at the dock was full this morning when my island tour guests tried to find a spot, so that’s not a guarantee.) Say you find a spot. Now you have to pay to park your car overnight and take the people ferry to St. John. Then once you arrive here, you have to take a taxi to wherever you’re staying unless it’s within walking distance of the dock. If you happen to be staying in a further location like Fish Bay, Coral Bay or beyond, it could be rather tough to even get a taxi to agree to drop you off. And then you will have to do the reverse the next day – Take a taxi to town, take the ferry to St. Thomas, get your vehicle, and then take the barge back to St. John. I don’t know about you, but that sounds completely miserable to me.

Just something to think about when you are planning your next vacation to St. John. 🙂

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  1. Cory Davies

    Respectfully disagree…Having made 14 trips to the Rock and rented jeeps on both STT and STJ about the same number of times, I’ve come to the conclusion there isn’t a superior option. Both come with pros and cons including the one illustrated in this article regarding a delayed flight precluding your ability to make the last car barge (not to mention that even when you do land in STT with plenty of time, the car barges aren’t a sure thing.) But as I’ve told many friends, many times, “fortune favors the bold, STJ favors the prepared.” I personally would not book a jeep on STT if my flight was scheduled to land any time after 3pm. Give yourself some wiggle room. And even when my flight is scheduled to land earlier and I rent a jeep on STT, I still work out a contingency plan with our villa host (especially if staying in Coral Bay). If a delayed flight caused me to miss the last car barge, I’d park the jeep at Red Hook, take the people ferry over, take a cab to our villa and then come back the next morning via cab or villa host to ride the people ferry back over, get the jeep and bring it back during the day. Is that going to cost you a morning of STJ fun and additional unexpected expenses, absolutely, but not the end of the world. Catch the 6am ferry and the 7am car barge and back by 8am before the rest of your crew likely wakes up. BTW, sometimes the car rental places on STJ won’t stay open late either and you still have to come back to Cruz Bay the next morning to pick up your jeep. Ultimately it’s up to the traveler to weigh the benefits of renting a jeep on STT vs the risks. I typically find that the benefits outweigh the risks as the car barge situation has vastly improved from 5 or 10 years ago and I typically schedule a flight that does not land in STT anytime after 1:30p. More barges, more trips over and back. If you do it right, the STT jeep rental (if you have a group of 3 of more travelers) is actually more economical than renting on STJ when you factor in all the costs (cab, ferry, etc.) Also love the option of shopping for groceries on STT at places like Cost-U-Less. Again, no superior option. Renting on STJ is the safer play but whether or not it’s the superior option is dependent on the traveler. IMO!

  2. Bonnie Nuendel

    This makes perfect sense, although in our 15 years of trips to St. Thomas we have never rented a car. We’d walk, hitch, VITRAN or taxi. Now it’s mostly taxi these days, but we feel like we’re supporting the local economy and staying safe.

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