I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them” – Mark Twain
It was a cold, gray day in December 2014. Matt and I were drowning our Seasonal Affective Disorder in a pitcher of top shelf margaritas at our favorite Mexican dive. Somehow, the conversation turned to Matt’s 50th birthday. I mean, if you’re already depressed, you may as well dredge up every miserable topic you can think of, right?
Despite the fact that it was still a year and a half away, it was already weighing heavily on his mind.
“Why don’t we plan something fun for your birthday, like when we took all my friends to the Bahamas for my 40th? You should look forward to your birthday, not dread it,” I said, through a mouthful of tortilla chips.
We started visualizing what such a trip could look like….where we would go…..who we would invite….and the more tequila we drank, the more amazing the idea seemed.
Why should he sit at home and bury his head in misery? Instead, we thought about going big and planning the trip of a lifetime.
By the bottom of the pitcher, we had solved all of the world’s problems, had figured out a cure for cancer, and had planned a birthday trip for Matt’s 50th. We had decided to rent a villa on Jost Van Dyke and invite our friends.
With 4 bedrooms, we could invite 3 other couples, but who? How to decide? We loved all of our friends and there were 12 of them.
“Let’s just invite them all and see who can come,” Matt said through the tequila haze.
It was a perfect plan.
What better way to turn 50 than do it with all of your favorite people in paradise?
We invited 12 people.
12 people said “yes.”
This was an unanticipated turn of events.
Of course they all said yes. They have heard us rave about Jost Van Dyke for years.
Jost Van Dyke is simply one of the best places on earth. Not only does it have one of the most famous beach bars in the Caribbean, the Soggy Dollar Bar, a veritable rite of passage for any beach bum, it has TWO of the most famous beach bars in the Caribbean with Foxy’s just a stumble away. Jost Van Dyke is an island of pure magic; a bubble of happiness and perfection, an oasis of sunshine and rainbows fueled by painkillers and rum punch. It is Caribbean utopia.
So that was it, then. We were going. All 14 of us.
We were going to need a bigger house.
Forget all those trust-building exercises where you have to assemble a puzzle together, or fall into one another’s arms with your eyes closed. I cannot imagine a more arduous test of any personal relationships than travelling together to a remote island as a group of 14.
Don’t get me wrong, I have vacationed with all of these people and loved it.
I just wasn’t sure how the dynamics of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE OF PEOPLE I KNOW being in one place at one time would work.
Some of our friends had never even met each other.
Still unsure whether this was lunacy or genius, we booked another house.
God help us.
God help Jost Van Dyke.
It was officially on.
SATURDAY: JOST VAN DYKE RULES.
Never mind that the mean age for this group was just over 50, the “House Rules” for this trip read something like a frat party:
• Wake up smiling every day.
• Remember that drinking rum before 10:00 a.m. makes you a pirate, not an alcoholic.
• Calories do not count on vacation. Anyone who attempts to exercise will be tied up and left as shark food.
• No talking about politics or the election. The first person to bring up Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton gets voted off the island.
• Stay hydrated.
• The least drunk people each day are in charge of looking out for the drunkest people each day.
• You can’t be the drunkest person each day. In the interest of fairness, please take turns. Except Matt. He can be the drunkest person every day.
• This is your vacation. If you need some “me time,” take it. Of course the rest of us will talk about you while you’re gone. We’re not Puritans.
• No passing out in the common rooms of the houses. No one wants to wake up and tiptoe around your drooling, lifeless body.
• If you don’t want to see it on Facebook, don’t do it.
• Yes to drinking games, spontaneous dance-offs, group singing, laughter, snacks, and naps.
• No to arguing, fighting, whining, crying, working, dieting, exercising, or excessive sobriety.
• Have fun.
A list of rules may seem unnecessary for a group of mature adults. This was not, however, a group of MATURE adults.
This was exemplified before our flight even took off as one male member of our party showed up on to the American Airlines gate dressed like a pregnant woman while screaming that Matt was the baby daddy.
Yep. This was going to be a week to remember.
Despite the fact that we had all gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to make our early flights, the mood on the plane was downright joyful.
WE WERE GOING TO JOST VAN DYKE!
We landed on St. Thomas at 11:30 and I sent everyone over to grab their free thimble full of rum while I sent Matt out to find a taxi large enough for 14 people.
He found one all right!
With luggage and bodies crammed into every nook and cranny, we set off for Red Hook.
4 carsick passengers, 7 impatient horn blows, and 23 hairpin turns later, we were dropped off at Duffy’s Love Shack where we hoped to grab a quick bite before catching the 2:30 ferry.
It was going on 1:00, so this seemed possible.
Yes, I wasn't really thinking about "island time."
Despite the fact that there was exactly ONE very slow bartender and ONE even slower waitress, we somehow managed to eat, drink, and get merry in time to catch the ferry.
By the time we arrived on Jost Van Dyke and cleared customs, it was 3:30.
We had been up for 12 hours. We were hot. We were dirty. We were exhausted.
I had rented Escape Villa and Pink House Bougainvillea because I had a large group of people, a very special occasion, and I needed top notch service.
Despite the fact that I paid a hefty sum to rent these 2 houses for a week, I did not get top notch service.
The materials sent to me by the managers for the houses clearly stated that the caretakers would gladly help me provision the houses, accepting delivery of groceries and putting them away. This was one of the reasons I rented these properties.
From the Pink House information packet: Call our General Managers (Franky and Lydia) so they know what your order's delivery schedule is estimated to be. Please confirm with them a pick-up from the dock at Great Harbor and delivery to the villas.
From the Escape Villa information packet: The property managers will arrange to have your groceries picked up at the ferry dock and delivered to Escape Villa and waiting for you upon arrival. You will just have to email the Property Managers with the information and confirm it with them.
However, my repeated emails (which started 4 weeks before our trip), went ignored. When I finally pressed for assistance after 10 days of emailing, the response I received was rather curt:
Two sentences that told me to do it myself. And no explanation about why or alternatives offered.
I envisioned 14 travel weary adults, ready for nothing more than a hot shower and a good meal, arriving to 50 boxes of groceries that needed to be loaded, transported, unloaded, and unpacked.
I appealed to the managers of the houses, sending this mournful plea (I am not too proud to grovel and would have done just about anything at this point): “It will be somewhat difficult to arrive with 14 people and luggage to also pick up boxes of groceries from the dock and transport them to the house on a taxi. If there is any way that this service can be provided, I would appreciate it, otherwise, I suppose we will simply try to do it on our own as best we can.”
I offered to pay extra for the provisioning assistance.
I received one response that said, “Please coordinate this with Lydia.” I received no other response.
Not what you expect for $12,000.
So that is how we arrived: a sweaty, bedraggled group of 14 after 12 hours of travel that were forced to split up so that the women could get all of the luggage to the house alone and start getting it unpacked while the men sat in the sun at the ferry dock and to wait an additional 45 minutes for the ferry with our groceries to arrive, load the groceries onto a taxi, unload them at the house, and then all of us spend 30 minutes putting them away.
At the moment when I was dragging our two fifty pound suitcases up the very steep driveway to the house by myself, I would have paid any amount of money for help. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even offered the opportunity.
To add insult to injury, the caretaker wasn’t even at the house when we arrived. When she finally showed up about 45 minutes later, she spent a scant 5 minutes showing us the house and left. We never heard from her or saw her again during our trip.
Even after I communicated my displeasure with the owner of the houses after our trip – not one word of apology. His response was “We have established relationships with vendors who provide our guest top service. In this case, while you’ve personally had a good experience with Bobby’s, we’ve had dozens that have not and therefore we do not use them anymore. We advised you this was the case and simply stated that you would need to coordinate with them on your own if you didn’t want to use our preferred vendor.”
Seriously???? It’s important to note that NO ONE advised me at any time prior to my arrival (not during the 4 weeks of emails that I continued to send in hopes of some assistance) that they would not help if we used Bobby’s rather than their grocery store of choice. The only communication I received in those 4 weeks were the two sentences that told me to do it myself with no explanation about why.
And frankly, I don’t think it should be their choice to force a guest to use a more expensive grocery store when that guest has a well-established history of good service with another vendor. Just. Incredible.
So….instead of arriving to this:
We arrived to this:
Escape Villa and Pink House?
As a well-travelled individual who has rented many homes on many island in all price ranges……My advice is…
DON’T DO IT.
Stay at White Bay Villas and put the other $10,000 in your pocket. Not only will you be treated well, you’ll have a lot of money left over for painkillers (or for sending your kids to college).
Hours later, we finally had everything put away and everyone got a much needed shower (and a much needed drink!).
The party had gotten derailed. Instead of arriving to paradise, my group had arrived to a carboard box filled hell complete with sweat, tears, and Ritz Crackers that needed to be put away.
As the official Funmeister of Matt’s 50th Birthday, I had to get things back on track. I knew there was only one thing that could make everything right with the world again: SHOTS.
Okay, make that two things:
FOXY’S – BECAUSE EVERYTHING TASTES BETTER WHEN YOU HAVE DUSTY UNDERWEAR HANGING ABOVE YOUR HEAD.
I knew I had been successful when the waitress at Foxy’s came out for the third time to tell us that the pole was necessary to hold the building up and was not, despite our best efforts, put there for dancing.
The party was ON.
SUNDAY: PARADISE DOES HAVE A NAME. IT’S GERTRUDE.
The forecast had called for mostly cloudy with an 80% chance of rain and storms for every day of our trip. I know better than to pay attention to a Caribbean forecast, but, like the rest of you, I can’t help myself.
We all know we do it.
It’s like looking behind the shower curtain when you walk into the bathroom even though you know there isn’t anyone in there. It’s pointless, but you are helpless to stop yourself.
When I woke up that first morning, I thought about that forecast.
After the arrival fiasco the day before, I prayed that we didn’t wake up to gray skies. That was a blow I didn’t think even the Funmeister could pull the group back from.
We woke up to a gloriously perfect White Bay Day.
I was as happy as a pig in the sunshine.
As the official master of ceremonies, I was in charge of the itinerary. (Was this even a question????). I had decided our first day had to be a White Bay Day. We had no plans more aspiring than seeing how long it took to get lounge chair marks on our butts.
The first order of business, however, was collecting 16 free painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar.
How do you get 16 FREE painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar, you ask? You have extremely awesome friends that purchased them months before on their own trip to Jost Van Dyke.
It also helps if your super nice friends can’t count and accidentally buy you 2 extra so that the Birthday Boy and his master of ceremonies, the Funmeister, can two fist it before it’s even time for lunch.
On the “party end” of White Bay, my favorite base of operations is Gertrude’s. Not only does she have full size reclining chairs, she has “pour your own” rum punch.
My version of Gertrude’s rum punch has enough rum in it to kill a small horse.
Or Gary Busey.
The day was spent drinking copious amounts of rum and alternating between getting pruney in the gin clear water and getting marginally sunburned on a lounge chair in between sporadic bouts of bad dancing.
Lunch found us at Seddy’s One Love downing lobster quesadillas, wings, and the island’s best bushwackers.
That was followed by more dancing and generously giving away all of my chips to two little boys who asked me if they could have them.
With those faces, I would have given them my kidney if they had asked.
Foxy’s Taboo was supposed to be having a Regatta party that afternoon, so we pried ourselves off our chairs and headed that way.
No live music. No dancing. No people. No party.
Although we did find some exceptional cocktails.
Everyone was a little too salty, a little too tired, and a little too lubricated for another party anyway, so we headed back to the house for much needed showers and naps.
Besides, Ivan’s told us they were having an 80s party that night. We needed to rest up.
The plan was to put on some obnoxious 80s-wear and head to Ivan’s where we would do the robot, listen to some Billy Idol, and grab some eats.
As I sent everyone inside to “gear up,” we sent a scout over to see what was going on at Ivan’s. It was only feet from Escape Villa, but we couldn’t hear any music. That seems suspicious.
Apparently, Ivan’s had gotten the same memo Foxy’s Taboo had gotten and the party was not meant to be.
What does a Funmeister do when she has promised a night of 80s fun to 13 adults and has forced them to put on costumes only to find out there is no party?
She makes shots and starts her own party. (Shots are the vacation equivalent of duct tape - they fix EVERYTHING)
What no one knew was that one of our 50 lb suitcases had contained a secret:
The Rockville was 800 watts of musical awesomeness. Who needs a party at Ivan’s when you have the Rockville, an iPod full of 80s tunes, and 14 adults in costumes? Not to mention strobe lights and a fully stocked bar.
It was EPIC.
The party was so good we had strangers wandering up from the beach to join us. We could have charged admission.
It was around 9:00 p.m. when I noticed Matt staring blearily into space while shoveling handfuls of chips into his mouth that I realized I hadn’t thought about dinner when we made the shift in plans. I had 14 adults who had been drinking all day and had no dinner.
I made a quick call to Vinnie at Corsair’s.
“Is it too late to order some pizzas for delivery?” I said in a state of panic. “I have 14 people who need some grease and dough in their bellies STAT!”
Vinnie delivered a stack of pizzas to our door in 30 minutes.
I am pretty sure he should be called Saint Vincent.
MONDAY: BOATS & HOES.
One of Matt’s birthday week requests was to charter a catamaran to take us out a couple of days.
Captain Colin of Jost Van Dyke Scuba had just what we needed: a 42’ catamaran with 1000 square feet of deck space and free rum punch.
Everyone was still felt like Vicki Prince was screaming “Let’s go Crazy!” in their ears, so we started the day slowly, with some much needed boat lounging.
Cpt. Colin took us to the Indians for an incredible snorkel.
This was followed by a nice spread of snacks on the boat.
And rum punch.
That’s pretty much where the civilized portion of the day concluded.
Next stop? Where else do you go once the rum punch starts to flow? The Willy T, of course! (every Funmeister knows that)
This broken down pirate ship just off the beach at Norman Island was definitely the place to let this group get their fun on.
We started off with lunch.
Lunch turned in to drinks.
Drinks turned into…well….I have been instructed not to overshare. I’ll just let you use your imagination.
Let’s just say it made 80’s night look like your grandma’s tea party.
The boat ride back to Jost was uneventful, although we did have one person throwing up off the back of the boat, three passed out in the salon, and one puking into a zip-loc bag.
The Funmeister passed waters around and we managed to get everyone back to Jost Van Dyke intact. Getting them off the boat and onto the dingy and then from the dingy to the dock was an entirely different matter.
No one fell in the water, so we will call it a success.
I sent everyone in for naps and showers, letting them know dinner was at Sidney’s Peace & Love that night.
Sidney’s was a perfect end to the day. The lobsters were HUGE and we made short work of them. All that was left was the carnage.
TUESDAY: THE ULTIMATE F WORD.
I have heard it said that a birthday is nature’s way of telling you to eat more cake.
A FIFTIETH birthday is apparently nature’s way of telling you to drink more rum.
Because that’s what we did.
All day long.
It was Matt’s birthday and we were going to party like it was his birthday.
It was another picture-perfect White Bay Day.
We took up our usual spots at Gertrude’s and soaked it in.
It was a perfect day filled with sunshine and friends, beach ducks, interesting strangers, Seddy’s magic tricks, lobster rolls and spicy wings, and enough rum to pickle a small army.
I wanted Matt’s birthday dinner to be special. The restaurants on Jost are great for a beachy lunch or drinks, but none of them seemed right for a nice birthday dinner. The Sandcastle no longer did dinners on the beach, and the thought of being crammed in their dark cement hole of a restaurant just didn’t feel right for this occasion.
I had gone out on a limb and contacted Liz Henderson of Hendo’s Hideout. Hendo’s was just being built when we had last been on Jost and I remembered it being a beautiful building with a stunning view. The restaurant and bar had just opened 2 months earlier, serving drinks and lunch only.
It was a risky move. We had never even seen the completed restaurant. We had NO IDEA what their food or drinks were like. They didn’t even serve dinner.
But I had a gut feeling and I went with it.
When Liz agreed to do a private dinner party for Matt’s birthday, I was so excited. And nervous. But mostly excited.
Everyone put on their beach best. You’d have never know this group had been moderately intoxicated for 4 days.
At least until the guys put on a pre-dinner concert, but maybe that was because of the birthday shots.
We walked down the beach to Hendo’s, wondering what to expect.
Liz had decorated a beach front table beautifully. We were greeted by delicate starfish and small votives filled with sand.
She immediately took drink orders and we noticed right off that these weren’t your average “White Bay” drinks. It was less rum punch and bushwacker and more passionfruit margarita and champagne cocktail. The drinks tasted as good as they looked.
Champagne buckets arrived, filled with bubbly and ice.
The dinner was getting off to a great start.
Liz had provided a menu in advance and we had sent in our orders the day before, so within minutes of our arrival, we had delicious cocktails and mouth-watering food.
The food. OMG. THE FOOD!
The food was nothing short of amazing. We had lobster with butter lime sauce, BBQ ribs (because every group has the one person that won’t eat seafood!), grilled mahi-mahi with peppers, and a creole snapper that was to DIE FOR.
The champagne flowed. The food was phenomenal. The candles sparkled. The air was filled with the laughter of our friends.
It was perfect.
Liz had knocked it out of the ballpark.
Run, don’t walk, to Hendo’s Hideout the next time you are on Jost Van Dyke. You will thank me.
Our group agreed it was everyone’s favorite meal of the entire trip.
Then it was time to head back to the villa for cake.....by the ocean (I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself).
Matt had specifically requested a chocolate peanut butter cake, so I had made it myself. After drinking rum all day.
Cake mixes should come with "island directions." Kind of like "high altitude directions," but more geared toward simple things that you forget in a slightly altered state like, "First, open the box. Next, cut open the plastic pouch. Then, pour cake mix into a bowl, crack the eggs before putting them in the bowl, do not put the shells in the bowl." That would have been helpful.
I really think it turned out quite nice, complete with “nutter butter sand” and chocolate seashells (and enough candles to start a forest fire).
Then it was time to break out the Rockville and dance the calories away.
Happy Birthday, Matt!
You may be 50, but to me, that just means you are 5 perfect 10’s. (Can I hear a collective “awwwww….,” please?)
WEDNESDAY: RUM SOAKED, SUN SOAKED, AND WELL….JUST SOAKED.
The party hadn’t stopped since we had arrived. Our fun switches had been in the “ON” position for 4 days. I think one of our friends summed it up perfectly when she looked at me the night before and said, “I just realized I have been drinking for 13 hours.”
We needed a break.
We were exhausted.
As luck would have it, this was the one overcast day we had on the entire trip. It was a blessing.
We had booked a second catamaran day with Cpt. Colin.
For a minute, he wasn’t sure if we were the same group he had dropped off 2 days before. We were quiet and subdued.
It was time for a down day.
We decided to put up the sails and sail to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. This would take a couple of hours and give everyone plenty of time to relax.
When we arrived at Cane Garden Bay, we decided to head to the Callwood Distillery. Matt and I had spent an entire WEEK in a house across the street from the distillery the previous November and had never made it inside.
No one really knows how long the distillery has been in operation, but the Callwood family has been operating it for 200 years after taking it over from the Arundel family.
As the sign demanded, we bellied up to the bar, put down our $1 and sampled 4 shots of their rum, all aged to various degrees.
The 90 proof Arundel cane rum called the “horny rum” was clearly the group favorite.
I’m not sure what that says about our group.
After making some rum purchases, we headed to Myett’s for lunch. We ordered a rainbow variety of frozen drinks, wings, burgers, and sticky-sweet chicken thighs.
Did I mention that we were exhausted?
On the way back to Jost Van Dyke, we passed by Sandy Spit and made a B-Line for Little Jost Van Dyke.
The B-Line Beach Bar, that is.
This little bar sits by itself on a little curve of sand and serves up a delicious drink called the passion confusion. There were even chunks of frozen pineapple floating in there.
We found a birthday message to Matt that had been left by our friends in December.
And we left a message of our own.
Then it was back to the villas for our requisite afternoon siesta.
We headed to Corsairs that night for dinner. While Vinnie’s pizzas are top notch and had really saved our bacon a couple of nights before, the rest of the menu is exceptional and begged to be sampled.
Matt and I had creamy lobster mac n’ cheese and the spicy cioppino with a fresh salad. It was out of this world.
I’m not sure how we had the energy to stop for a drink at Foxy’s before heading home, but we did.
Then it was time to head back and get some sleep, lest we end up looking like this guy:
THURSDAY: STRESS FREE.
So far, we had spent our beach days on what I call the “party end” of White Bay. This is where you will find the Soggy Dollar Bar, an inordinate number of people in straw cowboy hats, and a sea of boats pulled up to the shore. It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s fun.
But sometimes, you want the quiet end of White Bay. That’s when you park it at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar.
We lined up 14 chairs, mixed up some rum punch, and proceeded to take over the place.
It appeared the “off day” had worked it’s magic and everyone had their groove back.
That was a good thing, because we had a lot of rum to drink in two days.
I guess Ivan’s wasn’t the quite end of the beach anymore.
When the hungries hit, we headed back to Hendo’s for lunch. Dinner had been so great, lunch had to be pretty good.
It was good.
The afternoon was spent doing a whole lot of nothing.
That evening, we all got cleaned up and decided to head to Ivan’s for the Thursday night buffet, because we certainly needed more all-you-can-eat on this trip!
Ivan’s didn’t disappoint and the ladies serves us up some mean chicken and ribs.
We ate enough to send us all into a food coma for the night.
Or was that the rum?
It was getting hard to tell.
FRIDAY: AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A HATFIELD PARTY, ‘CUZ A HATFIELD PARTY DON’T STOP.
One of our friends had come up with this phrase on a previous trip and it had stuck. Because it was true.
We were good at this.
We had sustained the party for a week with very few down times. Even Vicki the Funmeister was impressed with this group’s stamina.
It was our last day, so we wanted to make it a good one. We decided to stay on “our beach” for the day. We lined up the chairs, blew up the floats, dragged out the paddle boards, anchored the floating mattresses, and turned up the Rockville.
The day was non-stop fun.
We went through every phase of beach drinking that day.
There was the “this is the most fun I have ever had in my life,” phase:
That was followed by the “I love you, man,” phase:
Next up was the “we are amazing dancers,” phase:
Things started to wind down with the “I've fallen....and I can't get up,” phase:
And finally, the, “let’s just take a nap,” phase:
With one dinner left, we let Matt pick where he wanted his last meal on the island.
Of course he picked Sidney’s Peace & Love for another monster lobster. He is painfully addicted to their potato salad.
Before we knew it, we were hanging up our own shirt at Foxy's and taking our last sleep on the birthday island.
SATURDAY: ADIOS TO JOST….IT’S THAT TIME OF DAY.
It’s the point that comes in every trip: time to go home.
I couldn’t believe how the week had gone. It had been amazing. Near perfect.
All 14 of us had gotten along so well that it was almost frightening (rum helps with that, I think). There had been no fights, no arguments, and no hurt feelings. We practically held hands and sang “Kumbayah” every day like a commune full of hippies in an old farmhouse in Woodstock filled with cats.
The weather had been great. Everything had gone well. We never ran out of potato chips. And no one got hurt (except for one unfortunate incident involving a member of our party and a large shrub.....).
I couldn’t believe how great the week had gone. I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be able to spend a week in paradise. I couldn’t believe how blessed we were to call these people our friends.
Ehr ma gawd, that’s some sappy crappy, isn’t it? I blame all the rum I guzzled over the trip for that word vomit. My liver is still trying to recover.
(But I meant every word of it)
So, here’s to Matt! Here’s to his 50th! Here’s to great friends!
If this is what we did for his 50th, I better start the planning for mine NOW.