We Come To Fete! The Ultimate Guide To St. John Carnival
Photo Credit: Steve Simonsen Photography

What better way to celebrate a national holiday than combining it with mas, pageantry, and culture! St. John Festival 2019 (June 28– July 4, 2019) in the U.S. Virgin Islands does this and so much more as they gear up to celebrate their 65th year of revelry that culminates on July 4th. The carnival celebrations of St. John Festival has triple celebration power: it’s carnival that takes place during two important holidays; local holiday Emancipation Day which commemorates the end of slavery in the USVI and 4th of July/Independence Day, the US holiday commemorating independence.

This month-long event kicks off with pulsating steel pan performances and regal pageants as it builds up to the week of July 3rd and 4th. The final week is filled with a food fair, a cultural village, J’ouvert, live musical performances from local and international artists, a grand parade and a fireworks finale. Here is your go-to guide on the carnival celebration you didn’t know you needed to attend. Read up!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Getting to St. John from the mainland is a three-fold process: plane to taxi to ferry. There are several daily direct flights into Cyril E. King Airport (STT) from cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, New York City and Atlanta. Visitors can also take connecting flights from other metropolitan cities like Dallas, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. All flights are with known carriers such as American Airlines, Delta, United, JetBlue, and Spirit. The cost of the flight will be the second largest dent in your budget (accommodations are first), ranging anywhere from $500 to $1000 based on when you purchase your ticket.

Once you’ve arrived in St. Thomas, a 20-25 minute ride to Red Hook will take you to the port where you will hop on a ferry to St. John ($7 one way plus $4 per bag fee) with the last ferry leaving at midnight.

Photo Credit: Seashore Allure

Where To Stay

Since experiencing two record-breaking category 5 hurricanes in 2017, St. John is still in recovery mode when it comes to accommodations. Don’t fear, as there are still a number of places to rest and recover from the hustle and bustle of carnival activities. Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO will be your best bet. Most hotels on island are usually sold out for carnival dates by mid-March. Accommodations can range anywhere from $200 – $750 per night based on your preferences and location on island.

Photo credit: Wesley Teo 

Transportation

Although St. John is a fairly small island (it’s only 19 square miles) renting a jeep is the best way to get around if you’re visiting for more than 3 days. Ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft are not available. The cost of taxi transportation will range from $11-$16 per person one-way based on your destination and you can easily blow your budget if you’re not careful. In comparison, the daily rate on a rental car ranges from $75-100 per day with weekly rental rates also available. Don’t forget that we drive on the left in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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St. John Travel Bonus

A visit for St. John Festival 2019 wouldn’t be complete without a sail to the British Virgin Islands. Grab your passport and jump on a charter to visit the world-famous site knows as The Baths in Virgin Gorda. This geological wonder features awe-inspiring granite boulders that form sheltered sea pools on the beach’s edge. From there, grab lunch at Willy T’s, the floating bar and restaurant where you can jump off the roof for a thrilling end to your meal. End the day at Soggy Dollar on Jost Van Dyke and enjoy a painkiller from the place where it originated and perfected. Dance along the sandy shores and try your hand at the Soggy Dollar Ring Game. A day on is a must when you come to St. John Festival 2019.

Photo credit: Wesley Teo 

Where to Eat

St. John is an island known for a large expatriate population. As a result, the food scene includes anything your heart desires from Italian to Asian to authentic Caribbean. Delicious local food is easily found in the St. John Festival Village. However, carnival-goers can head to De Coal Pot (2DC Cruz Bay) located 500 feet from the ferry dock for authentic Caribbean cuisine like roti, oxtail, snapper creole or conch in butter sauce. Check out Extra Virgin Bistro for a meal that won’t disappoint. This Italian-Caribbean infused restaurant is known for growing their herbs and seasonings on site and features fresh, and local seafood on their menu daily.

For a unique dining experience, grab a kayak and some tacos at St. John’s floating taco bar, Lime Out. For great food to end an amazing day of exploring St. John, visit Uncle Joe’s BBQ for the best ribs on the island. Secure a seat at the bar or along the street side at La Tapa in Cruz Bay. This contemporary Mediterranean restaurant serves up fresh plates made with locally sourced ingredients and they have a pretty extensive wine list. Lastly, you can’t leave St. John without a scoop or two of ice cream from St. John Scoops. Serving 20+ adult and kid-friendly flavors, some options include toasted coconut, passion fruit, salted peanut butter, raspberry lemonade sorbet, and lemon-lime and piña colada slushies.

Photo Credit: Steve Simonsen Photography 

Up All Night

The party never stops and the fun never ends at St. John Festival 2019. The grand opening of the Festival Village takes place on Friday, June 28th in Cruz Bay and is open every night through Thursday, July 4th. Here, visitors can enjoy live musical performances nightly from local and international artists and get their fill of yummy local foods and drinks from the various booths lined around the lot. Once the festival village closes around 2 am, the party spills into the streets at the bars and restaurants in the surrounding area.

J’ouvert morning is considered to be the official start of Carnival bacchanal for St. John Festival 2019. On the morning of July 4th, revelers dance in the streets starting from 4 am to 8 am. The word “J’ouvert” gets its origin from the French phrase “jour ouvert” that means daybreak or morning. Dance your way through the streets of Cruz Bay and if you’ve got energy left, find yourself right back in town for the Festival Parade that kicks off at 11 am. Children sport bright, colorful costumes dancing, twirling and jumping through the streets.

Photo Credit: Steve Simonsen Photography 

Adults parade around in vibrant costumes dancing to lively music with an intoxicating energy that never seems to go away. You can choose which way you’d like to participate: stand on the sidelines to take in the fun or join a troupe like We N’ Dem Jumbies or the Westin St. John Festival Troupe to be part of the festivities. Close out the night with a bang with an illuminating fireworks presentation as sparks fly and light up the sky for all of St. John to see.

You are officially ready to take on St. John Festival 2019. Remain safe by traveling in groups and remaining aware of your surroundings at all times. Make the most of your trip by using the tips and suggestions provided in this guide and your carnival experience will be one for the books.

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