• Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

    Vacation Photography in St. John

    Our first experience with vacation photos + tips for getting the most out of your quick shoot.

  • VIbe St. John

    GIVEAWAY: VIbe Collection Pendant

    Enter to win a gorgeous pendant courtesy of the VIbe Collection. Ends August 7, 2015.

  • Snorkeling in St. John

    St. John: Island Tour & Snorkeling

    Our final day in St. John, exploring the island with a rental car and snorkeling at Trunk Bay.

  • Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke

    BVI: Day Sail to Jost Van Dyke

    A day sail to Jost Van Dyke aboard Survivan gets us out of US territory and off to the BVIs!

  • Carnival

    St. John: Carnival Celebrations & a Caneel Excursion

    Celebrating the 4th of July in St. John with Carnival, fireworks & lots of beach time.

Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

A St. John Photoshoot + Tips for Vacation Photos

Amidst this surprise trip to St. John for the weekend, I also booked us a 30 minute shoot with St. John-based Flytographer, Savanah Loftus. I chatted with Savanah over the phone before we arrived to get her thoughts on our options for a quick thirty minute shoot. She gave me a few thoughts on circuits that she typically does: 1) A focus on Cruz Bay using the vibrant colors and fun qualities of the island’s main town; 2) a beach shoot; 3) a shoot playing off of the ruins near Caneel Bay in St. John. I’ve seen photos from all three settings and all are pretty incredible for different reasons. Before meeting with her, I had my mind set on a beach shoot. I wanted something playful but still romantic to capture the essence of our first wedding anniversary.

Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

When the day arrived, the skies were hazier than they had been the previous days. We had heard about this ‘Saharan dust’ and were finally understanding what it was: it left this bizarre hazy layer on the island, muting the colors which was especially noticeable at the beach. When we met up in Cruz Bay, I mentioned it to Savanah to ask for a bit of direction. She quickly pointed us to a Cruz Bay shoot where we could play off the colors in the town instead of relying on the colors in the sky.

Flytographer, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

Tips for Vacation Photography

No question about it, Scott and I both felt awkward to begin with; having your photo taken in public with people quizically looking on makes the whole thing feel even less natural. With a thirty minute shoot, you have to get comfortable pretty quickly to take advantage of the brief time that you have with the photog. Savanah did a great job of trying to make us feel natural and put us in situations that didn’t seem too forced. All in all, we both thought the photos turned out fairly well. I chose to have a vacation photographer primarily to have a few photos from our first anniversary that we were both in. We always end up leaving trips without more than one or two decent photos together and I was determined to make this trip different. Keep reading for a few tips for getting the most out of a vacation shoot based on our experience and what I think I could have done better. Read More

VIbe St. John

Enter to win a necklace from Vibe Collection

During my time in St. John, I found myself utterly amazed by the amount of shopping available on such a tiny island. Beyond St. John-logoed tees, magnets and cover-ups, there were shops doling out spices, interesting art and most notably, jewelry. Vibe Collection caught my attention immediately. There are two separate shops in Cruz Bay: Vibe Collection and Into the Blue, both selling stunning handmade jewelry with stones like larimar, green quartz, citrine and blue topaz. As a major bonus for women that have a hard time finding bracelets that fit: their jewelry is sized so it actually fits you properly. Such a simple but brilliant idea, right?

I’m excited to kick off a giveaway in conjunction with the team at Vibe Collection. One of their most popular pieces, the Jost Van Dyke pendant, is up for grabs for one lucky winner (a $348 value)! As a bonus, you’ll get to pick the stone that best reflects your style and personality: blue topaz, white topaz, citrine, amethyst or onyx. To enter, connect with VIbe Collection through their social channels (Facebook, Twitter &  Pinterest) and let us know that you’ve done so using the widget below.

The contest closes August 7, 2014 at 12PM EST and winners will be notified shortly after!
a Traveling Scholar Giveaway

Good luck to everyone!

Shannon Kircher

This giveaway was made possible by The Vibe Collection. Winner will be randomly selected and pendant will be sent directly from the team at Vibe St. John.
Snorkeling in St. John

During our final day in St. John, we rented a car and headed out to explore. We wanted to get a sense of the island, to learn our way around, and discover the places that we’d want to revisit if we were to return. We’d gotten a decent feel for Cruz Bay by this point but hadn’t ventured past Trunk Bay to explore.

Before booking the trip, I’d spoken with frequent visitors to St. John who had raved about how tranquil the island is, and how beautiful the landscape is with its stunning beaches and its national forest. Going in, I managed my expectations: sure, the beaches will be nice, but would they even compare to Anguilla’s? I didn’t want to get my hopes up. After exploring the beaches at Caneel Bay, plus undertaking our self-guided tour of the north shore, I was impressed.

Many of the beaches are stunningly gorgeous, and the silhouettes of neighboring islands make the landscape even more interesting. The only downside is that the beaches were far more crowded than what we’ve become accustomed to in Anguilla. We had to search for an open slice of sand on the beach when we wanted to settle in. Most of beaches were at least 10x more crowded than what we’re used to on our home beaches. Even the ‘local gems’ that residents had told us about were busy.

Still, you can’t argue with these views and the color of this water.

Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI Read More

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke

For the most part, we were winging it in St. John. I had an idea of places that I wanted to go, beaches I wanted to see and places I wanted to dine, but everything was extremely loose knowing that I would want Scott’s input (this was a surprise trip so he had no input on the planning front). The one thing that I had solidified before we departed was a little something special for our actual anniversary on July 5th: a day sail to Jost Van Dyke.

Survivan, St. John Yacht Charter, Sail to Jost Van Dyke

This was my first time in the Virgin Islands broadly but Scott had been to the area before with family. He’d always spoken highly of his experience sailing in the USVIs and BVIs, but was especially enthusiastic about Jost Van Dyke (based on my conversations with other people who had been, this seemed to be a trend). Knowing that this was one of his favorite places in the world, a day sail was a no-brainer. I rabidly searched the internet trying to find the right option for the trip. Being that we were heading out in July, many sailboats had already left the Caribbean and headed north – many up to Maine, Rhode Island, etc. – for the summer months. There’s a public ferry that’s offered if you want a no frills way to get from Point A to Point B (it’ll save you a few dollars), but there are also a slew of sailboats available to make the experience a bit more memorable. We chose to sail with Jason from St. John Yacht Charters aboard his boat, Survivan. He serves up painkillers and soft drinks along the way but we brought a special bottle of bubbly to celebrate.

IMG_7794

I actually didn’t do a ton of research into the ferry simply because the thought of sailing felt too perfect given the backdrop. It’s an area that begs visitors to be on the water and I was excited for the full experience: meeting fellow passengers and learning Jason’s story (in the same way everyone asks Scott and I how we ended up in Anguilla, it’s interesting to learn what brought people down and what their experiences have been). Jason and his first mate, Madison, were awesome – they made the experience fun and could relate on tales of island life. For anyone looking at Survivan wondering why the boat’s name is spelled as such (I went through the initial period trying to figure out if it was pronounced like “surviving” or with some French twist that I couldn’t master), we got to hear the story behind the name: the boat was in Grenada during Hurricane Ivan and was the only boat to escape unscathed. The boat, which now had a legacy of survivin’ Ivan, was aptly named Survivan, with “Ivan” being integrated into the moniker.

Jost Van Dyke

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVIs

En route to Jost Van Dyke we stopped for a snorkel before re-boarding and making our way to Jost. We had a dusting of rain on the way and a bit of wind which disappeared as we pulled into White Bay. On the way, we had collectively decided to skip Foxy’s since the beach and the experience wouldn’t be the same as White Bay during the day. We were given about two hours to spend on the island; enough time to grab a painkiller – or three – plus have lunch on the beach.

Naturally, our first stop was the Soggy Dollar Bar, the home of the painkiller. I’ve had a few painkillers in Anguilla, but it’s not the same as sippin’ the orange coconutty rum concoction at the bar that it calls home. Now, this is probably no surprise, but these things are deceptively strong. I was on my second when we began makin’ friends with a group of folks that frequent the island (twice a year – July and December, without exception). At this point, we’d meandered down to One Love Bar & Grill which serves up famously delicious lobster quesadillas along with other Caribbean bar fare. We placed a lunch order and headed down the beach to soak up the sun and exchange stories while the food was being prepped.

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVIsSoggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVIsJost Van Dyke, BVIs

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVIs

Extending the Day Trip

The folks we became friends with stay on Jost Van Dyke for the entirety of their vacation. Before we’d arrived on the island, I hadn’t even really considered it as a place to spend multiple days or as a place with hotels and proper dining establishments but it is. At this point, I was on my third painkiller and intermittently sipping Scott’s bushwacker from One Love (it’s like an adult milkshake). I’d also opted out of lunch since I wasn’t overly hungry. It was around 1:20PM and after chatting with our new friends Scott and I had decided that leaving JVD sounded like a terrible idea. We were going to spend the night.

Yes, that seemed like a good idea. We were staying the night on Jost Van Dyke. We added ourselves to our new friends’ dinner reservation at Abe’s and were going to find a hotel room somewhere, some way. Otherwise, there were plenty of hammocks we could sleep on. There was also a public ferry headed out the next morning that we could take. We had this thing figured out.

One Love, Jost Van Dyke, BVIsOne Love, Jost Van Dyke, BVIs

After we’d made this decision, Scott promptly swam out to Jason and Madison on Survivan and explained our idea. It was our first wedding anniversary and we’d decided that they’d delivered us to a veritable heaven on earth. We were hoping to stay the night if that was okay. Apparently this was the first time they’d encountered something like this but it worked out. Our passports were returned to us along with our shoes and we were in this. We were spending the night. We weren’t sure where we were spending the night, but we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.

Soon after, we made another group of friends who’d headed over from St. John on a boat of their own. I’m going to pause here: if you can’t tell already, this is a theme and I don’t think it’s relevant to just us. This is the ultimate place to make friends whose names you probably won’t remember. You’ll take photos together and get along like old pals while trading off buying rounds of painkillers.

Jost Van Dyke, BVIs, Virgin Islands

After a couple of hours marinating in the water and chatting with them, they were going to head back. It was now around 4PM. Heading back now seemed like a good idea. We’d said we wanted to stay the night but at this point, we could see ourselves heading back. We’d had a great taste of Jost and having a place to sleep sounded nice. We asked our new friends if we could hitch a ride back with them. They accepted (we helped pay extra gas fees incurred) and we made our way back to St. John with them while talking about the newest season of The Bachelor. Don’t worry – we explained this to our other group of friends and they took us off of the dinner reservation.

I had somehow arrived back in St. John without my shoes and ate dinner at The Taproom shoeless with our new friends. I have pictures from the rest of the night, but I’m choosing not to share them as they’re not the most flattering of photos. I’ll share just one after the day’s adventure. It captures the love of a one year anniversary:

Tap Room, St. John

The best part is that we went home and were sleeping by 8:30PM. A memorable one year anniversary indeed.

xo from the islands,

Shannon Kircher

Wanna make a painkiller at home? Check out this recipe from Islands Magazine to get your fix.

Carnival

Celebrating the US in the USVI

We woke up on July 4th and made coffee in our cottage to sip outside on our balcony. The sounds of the day were ringing up from Cruz Bay to the area we were staying, overlooking town. While the walk to our place was brutal (majorly steep), the views were the world’s attempt at making up for trek. St. John Villa We took some time during our first morning to exchange anniversary cards and gifts, and map out our upcoming adventures. For the record, Scott knocked it out of the park with my anniversary gift! I know girls say this, but I really didn’t expect anything. I mean, maybe a card, but that was the extent of it. What was really thoughtful was that I’d pointed out this very necklace during a trip to St. Maarten over a year ago. We were just engaged at the time and were going to a jewelry store to find my wedding band. I thought everything about the necklace was perfect and I stared into the glass case for long enough for the sales rep to notice me salivating. He commented on it, but I obviously wasn’t going to buy it – we were already buying a wedding band which had us reaching our jewelry budget for oh, you know, life. Then, over a year and a half later, Scott obviously remembered that moment and totally surprised the heck out of me in St. John. Anniversary Anniversary Gift

Also, I have to share this (last bit of sappiness, I promise) – I found this card produced by the Arijah Foundation in Anguilla to gift to Scott. The church shown on the cover is the exact church that we were in when we got hitched! Check out pics & info from our wedding here.

Arijah Foundation Alright, enough about that. As I mentioned, we were in St. John for Carnival and I wanted to get a taste of how it compared to what we’d experienced on our home island. Like Anguilla, it’s an extended celebration with one major day of parades and J’ouvert at day break. In truth, I’m not entirely sure what Cruz Bay is like without the festivities taking place. While were there there, the main street in town was lined with vendors: folks cooking up BBQ, people selling snacks, and vendors doling out locally made hot sauces and jams. It wasn’t nearly as big and crazy as Anguilla’s version, but it certainly created a totally different atmosphere in Cruz Bay. Instead of spending the entire day in town, we decided to catch the latter part of the parade and spend the day enjoying a bit of sun and sand while everyone congregated in Cruz Bay. We boarded a taxi ($6 each) and made our way to famous Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI Trunk Bay is probably the most famous beach in St. John. It’s the hot spot that cruise ships send cruisers to lounge, and a $4 entrance fee is charged for all patrons. In exchange, guests have access to fresh water showers, chair rentals, concessions and a little gift shop. Plus, the fee goes to National Park system so it seemed like a fair trade off for enjoying the beach. I actually wasn’t super keen on making Trunk Bay our first stop as it is the most famous (which typically means the most touristed), but as we were taking a cab we didn’t have much choice (for more on the cab system in St. John, see my previous post and tips). Trunk Bay is an undeniably stunning beach. The water is crystal clear, the sand is beautifully white and dotted with roots and stems from trees that line the beach. The landscape is much more dramatic than what we’re used to seeing in Anguilla; rock formations in the water give the sea depth and the trees and flowers provide pretty pops of color in contrast with the sea and sand. Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI trunk trunk3

You can’t really tell from these photos, but the biggest con to visiting Trunk Bay was that it was a bit crowded – at least by our standards. We found a comfy slice of sand, but we were marinating in the water alongside lots of snorkelers and the beach continued to fill up while we were there. After a dip in the sea and a fair dose of Vitamin D, we headed off for lunch. Being in a new destination, we try to pick our dining somewhat strategically. We knew we wanted to get over to Caneel Bay to explore so we decided to lunch at Caneel Beach Bar & Grill, where we’d get to explore the property and see some of the beaches and ruins. Read More

Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI

Anguilla → St. John + Tips for Island Visitors

Scott was thoroughly surprised (or so he says) when I revealed that we were St. John-bound to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We headed to the airport from work, packed up and ready to embark on our quick 45 minute flight to St. Thomas aboard LIAT.

I’ve flown LIAT once before without any issues so I thought based on that positive experience that this one was bound to be terrible. Statistically speaking, of course. Based on LIAT’s rep (sorry, LIAT), there was a good chance we’d: a) leave an hour or more late, b) maybe not even leave at all, or c) arrive only to find that our luggage somehow got diverted to somewhere that makes zero sense (e.g. St. Lucia). I was prepared for this, so when they boarded our 6:20PM flight at 5:55PM and took off at 6PM (this means they took off early), I was astounded. That 45 minute flight that I had planned on was actually only 30 minutes, which meant that we arrived in St. Thomas just 10 minutes after we were supposed to leave Anguilla. All of this was exceptional news. Then our luggage came out just a few moments after we arrived and the customs agent who was kind of scary at first glance was actually very friendly. We were off to a good start. We hopped in a cab with a bunch of other folks headed in our direction and were at the ferry terminal in about thirty minutes time. In hindsight, the drive from the airport to the ferry felt like the longest piece of our journey. Once we arrived at the terminal, we were able to board the 8PM ferry to Cruz Bay in St. John.

In the air, flying from Anguilla to St. Thomas

A note for those journeying from St. Thomas to St. John: the ferry leaves every hour and people were boarding until the very last minute. We arrived 10 minutes early thinking we’d just barely make it, but we were the early birds.

We arrived in St. John a short fifteen minutes later. Max. The ride was smooth but the ferry was extra crowded as we had arrived the night before the 4th of July, St. John’s Carnival celebration (more on that to come).

After arriving, we immediately headed to our villa (‘cottage’ is a more accurate term), dropped off our bags and headed into Cruz Bay to glimpse what was happening in the streets and in Carnival Village. It was still too early for Carnival’s epicenter to be alive so we grabbed dinner at Rhumb Lines, a central spot where we had an incredible tapas-style spread while toasting to our first night out in the Virgin Islands. When we finished, we did one lap around town to take in the energy of the evening and the festivities before heading home. Truth be told, there’s only so much soca music I can listen to. Plus, I wasn’t in need of an electric lemonade from the Sugar Shack. It was bedtime.

Rhumb Lines-Toast

I have lots to share from our short getaway: snapshots from St. John’s Carnival, plus spending the 4th on a US island; a day trip to Jost Van Dyke aboard Survivan (and how we almost spent the night there but hitched a ride back to St. John); awesome beaches and snorkeling; plus some great dining and shopping finds on this little gem. Until then, I thought I’d share a few tips for travelers to St. John to kick off the journey. I found some of this information alluded to in my research, but most of the info we discovered through just being in St. John. Read More

St. John

I actually think I can keep a decent secret if the occasion calls for it but this one was burning a hole in my chest. Scott and I had hotly debated whether or not we should go away for one one-year anniversary and decided that all things considered, we should pass this year. I was on board with that… honestly.

Then Scott went to New York for two weeks for a program at Cornell University and I was left to my own devices. Naturally, I began daydreaming a bit more. I assumed work would be slammed for the first week of July but at second glance, the fourth of July holiday weekend actually brought a brief period of quietness to the island, in stark contrast to what I’d envisioned.  Was it too late to plan a getaway? Could I pull off a surprise? Where would we go? After a bit of research, I found direct flights from Anguilla to St. Thomas. This was a criteria for me – I needed to be able to fly out of Anguilla for ease of travel and also to keep this a secret until the last minute. Having to leave from St. Maarten would naturally foil my plans (he’d figure it out when we had to take a ferry). While St. Thomas may be a perfectly fine getaway, I know Scott and I know myself and St. Thomas wasn’t really the desired final destination. Little St. John on the other hand seemed like the perfect option. Read More

Little Bay, Anguilla

My dad and grandmother are in town for just another day so my dad and I took the opportunity to set out on a sunset cocktail cruise to Little Bay to enjoy one of our final evenings together. We departed from Meads Bay around 4:30PM, slowly cutting across the bright turquoise waters with rosé in hand. The water here never ceases to amaze me; there are so many shades of blue and turquoise as you make your way around the island. The slice of sand near Malliouhana on Meads Bay (in the pic below) is some of the most beautiful turquoise-y water around. For the record, none of these pictures are photoshopped – that’s what the water really looks like!

Sunset Cruise in Anguilla

After spending a couple of weeks in New York undertaking a course at Cornell University, Scott has finally returned to the island and was with us for our north coast tour from the hotel.

Sunset Cruise in Anguilla

The ride from Meads Bay to Little Bay isn’t that long, but during sunset it’s a super slow and tranquil cruise where we typically enjoy a few idle moments in Sandy Ground admiring the view from the water. Seeing many of the hotspots in the evening (e.g. Pumphouse, Elvis’, Dolce Vita, etc.) is entirely different that cruising by during the day. Many people are surprised by how nondescript their favorite spots are – simple structures on the beach that seems to be transformed by evening lights, a great atmosphere, and stars overhead.

Sandy Ground, Anguilla

Read More

Tradition Sailing Anguilla

I hosted yesterday’s #CaribChat conversation with a focus on water sports & water-based activities and chatted with lots of like-minded people who said the same thing: amidst the fun of snorkeling, diving, kitesurfing and stand-up paddleboarding, there’s something so great about the simple pleasure of being on a boat. For us, that’s often times heading out on a power boat with our resort guests, visiting off-island cays and exploring beach bars that dot the island’s perimeter. On one occasion earlier this year we headed on a boat trip that was extra special, a sunset tapas cruise on Tradition Sailing.

Operated by Laurie Gumbs (of Pumphouse fame) and Deb, his partner-in-crime, the Tradition experience has been fine-tuned to give guests an incredibly unique and memorable experience. When the sunset works in your favor, it’s bliss to the nth degree. The vessel is a traditional West Indian sloop that provides an experience markedly different from a typical powerboat. Considering the historical and cultural significance of sailing in Anguilla, a traditional sailboat is an homage to the island of yesteryear; a slow sweet sail from Sandy Ground with a cocktail in hand and the wood beneath your feet.

Tradition Sailing AnguillaTradition Sailing Charters, Anguilla SailTradition Anguilla

Tradition has a slew of offerings from a half day Little Bay sail to a custom, tailored experience in the form of a private charter (I’ve often thought this would be perfect for a small wedding party or a family trip). Along with another couple, we were fortunate enough to hop aboard the sunset tapas cruise, one of their newer offerings this year where guests not only get to sip on delicious mimosas but also get to nibble on bites from an extravagant spread while the sun sets (think cheese, veggie platter, salmon blinis, etc). Read More

Anguilla Sunset, Frangipani Beach Resort, The Traveling Scholar

Sometimes – just sometimes – a sunset is so mind-blowingly brilliant it makes you stare in awe. The truth is that a good sunset never gets old but once in a while the sky is set ablaze so vividly that it honestly takes your breath away. Last night was one of those nights. We host a manager’s cocktail party every Wednesday and while we attempt to call in our favors, we’re not always guaranteed a Crayola-hued backdrop while sipping rosé on the beach. Last night, the world worked in our favor. Big time. In case you weren’t here to see it, I thought I’d share.

Frangipani Beach Resort, Meads Bay, Anguilla

Frangipani Beach Resort, Meads Bay, Anguilla

Sunset in Anguilla, Frangipani Beach Resort

xo from Meads Bay,

Shannon Kircher