One bi-coastal engagement
After 10 years apart, Jess and I took our first trip together to St John in February 2013. I come from CA so Hawai’i was my typical vacation. I’d never been to the Caribbean before, and after that trip we put a new island on our list every year. We’ve visited several since, but no matter where we explored, St John became the benchmark. Nothing compared. Cut to January 2016, Jess proposed — out of nowhere — in my hometown at Natural Bridges state beach, and as we headed to my parents’ for dinner, we knew right away planning one wedding with both families would be difficult. All options led back to St John. We wanted them to experience this amazing place and what it represented to us, and since we didn’t have a neutral place halfway in mind, or the need for a big fancy traditional thing, we decided to do it 100% ourselves. And like that, the date was set for October 6, 2017.
I found Great Expectations on Airbnb. It was the perfect size, shape and level of funky we knew the whole family would love. It wasn’t one of those posh villas with sharp edges, a huge chef’s kitchen and stark white art on the walls. With 6 kids and 3 parents in their mid-60s, we needed something easy and spacious and this was the perfect spot — plenty of fun for the kids, and private areas for the adults, a communal kitchen and awesome views from what looked like both sides of the property? Sold. We booked with Kristin and Chuck and set out to make plans with Laura at Passion Fruit Chefs for our 25-person reception, Dianne at Kekoa for the sunset cruise ceremony, a half-day snorkel trip with Calypso, rehearsal dinner at La Tapa, flowers by Gayle at Sally’s Bou-quet, and our trusty shuttle with Chico at Aqua Blu.
1 month out, the first week of September 2017, I started my calls to confirm flights and jeeps were booked for everyone, deposits and credit cards were all set with vendors, headcount, timing, rooms and other villas, allergies, everything. We were so excited it was finally coming together, nearly 2 years of planning our own DIY wedding, piece of cake. My first call was to Calypso, start easy. “Hi there, I’m just calling to check in on our snorkel trip for 12 coming up in a few weeks.” “Um, we are all preparing for a hurricane right now, shouldn’t be too bad, can I call you back?” I was shocked, and completely embarrassed I didn’t have any idea this was happening. Though he was calm, I could sense the emergency in his voice, and I immediately felt a gut bomb of panic. We were helpless, we couldn’t do anything for them, we didn’t know how bad it could be, and we didn’t know what to tell our friends and family who shared our concerns about how to react. The news we got only got worse. Once Maria was on its way we knew it was over. It was tough to understand the full scope of the impact because media coverage was all about Florida. Wedding aside, this was a national tragedy, and nothing was being done about our friends in the USVI.
It was time to call it and cancel flights. I emailed all our guests asking for their donation to St John Rescue Fund, knowing they’d already spent a small fortune. We did not have travel insurance or refundable tickets, and after hours on the phone with Expedia and busy American Airlines, neither could explain why $200 cancellation fees still applied when the flights themselves were cancelled. Others had worse luck, being forced to use their airline credit within the year (less than 3 months). I emailed Laura and everyone else to wish them luck, knowing they likely wouldn’t read it for weeks, and to say we obviously cannot keep our date, but you’re in our thoughts and we will reschedule!
Nothing was more certain than keeping our original plans with Love City. Would they be ok in Spring? Would it take years or never? We had no clue but it didn’t matter. Jess and I have known each other for 2 lifetimes, time is short but means nothing in the end, and we can wait. Kristin and Chuck responded in appreciation to say the villa is ok and of course we’ll hold your balance, please come back anytime. Laura surfaced a few weeks later with the same note, that she’s fine, just let us know when you decide to come.
Like the locals say, what’s the hurry?
People asked me if I was disappointed, and what I would do now. It was a bummer for sure, but my answer was always one of two ways or both: A) I’m not devastated (most brides likely would be), I have a pretty cool head about it. We’ll still do it on St John — Really? You will? — yes, because the one thing we can do to support them most is visit. And B) others were and are far worse off than us. I try to focus my attention on them instead. Please donate.
I followed Kekoa on instagram. On October 9, 2017 they posted the first photo of her damage. “Normally when you own a business, etiquette says to never share the hardships. Always be positive, show people your success and not your failure. But this isn't normal.” Their story and how they told it affected me, the damage, their progress, how proud they are of their community, their family. I attached myself to the boat as a gauge for readiness. It felt hopeful.
And as soon as I started to see green in the background, I picked up where we left off. On April 30, 2018, I met Steve via email. He and his wife Carrie were the new owners of Great Expectations. Rescheduling our wedding meant quite a few new logistics had to be decided to set a new date (and keep cost on the sane side at the same time). We didn’t want to be married when there’s still snow on the ground in Boston, but we also didn’t want to do it in hurricane season again. With the higher cost of just about everything during high season, we decided to cut the guestlist to family — it didn’t feel right expecting friends to rebook, adding unnecessary pressure to ensure everything was wedding-perfect for their trouble, which wasn’t at all the experience we wanted. Originally, only one of my nephews would come, but since the other would be 3 by this time, he was ready for his first plane ride from CA. Kids are the same price as adults, so that was more for my brother to take on. Steve and Carrie were very cool to give us an 8th night free for moving our dates, but this also meant the kids would miss a lot of school. In the end, we covered the balance for everyone, and because we rescheduled the dinner outside of a year, Laura gave us only a partial refund. We tried to keep tight everywhere we could to be able to do the trip in Spring. It was a roller coaster of highs and lows, weighing sacrifice against gains, and after a few weeks of calls and callbacks, the wedding day was set for April 1.
Come February, about a month before we go, I get a call from Jamison himself at Kekoa. Because of an unfortunately timed government shutdown by an unfortunate imbecile and his xenophobic vanity project, Kekoa did not get its inspection that week and she wouldn’t be ready for us in time. Lucky for us, the folks at Kekoa are some incredible people, they took it upon themselves to organize for us their competitor, Daydreamer, the only other charter available on the island. And it was glorious!
Aside from your normal yet sometimes challenging island-time setbacks and the craziness of travelling long distances to foreign places with small children, everything went off perfectly once we arrived. It was the leading up to arriving Great Expectations, a 3-year cycle of planning and re-planning to bring forward a low-key, well-planned and stress-free vision, in a time of uncertainty and pulling faith it will all work out in the end. And it did, and I’d do all over again tomorrow.
Our 8 days on St John: 6 kids, 6 adults and 3 grandparents at Great Expectations
My brother, his wife and my two nephews stayed with us in Boston for a few nights to split up their long trip. It was like the beginning of Home Alone, we were packing, bathing boys, eating pizza and scheduling Lyfts to get us all to Logan in the morning. My cats were berzerker, Nick couldn’t breath (or sleep) because of said cats, and my mom tells us she’s arriving St John at a new time, all about 5 hours before we take off. Everyone is super relaxed.
Two planes and a (very scenic, very sketchy) shuttle ride later, we ferry over from Red Hook. Our guy Owen was ready with his taxi to take us to Great Expectations (thank you Kristen!).
Day one pool time! While Owen took the guys grocery shopping (I will forever thank them for stocking the house, little did they know it would be the first of 11 trips), we waited for the other half of our group to arrive to this outrageously convenient villa.
All the nephews together at last, one great sunset
Packed lunches and 3 cars and took the whole crew to Maho Bay for some first-time snorkeling for the older kids, and sea turtles. Water and weather were perfect and the two families meshed like gangbusters. The food truck ran out of propane so we headed home for dinner.
Packed lunches and 3 cars and took the whole crew to Trunk Bay for even better snorkeling. Spent the whole day at the beach, with the bar and clean bathrooms, everyone was happy. Also tried Cinnamon beach, as we read there was a café where we might grab dinner for the kiddos, but it was sadly still in a post-Irma state.
Flower girl Kyla, bride and groom head to St Thomas to get the marriage license. We see Kekoa in Cruz Bay and wave. Met a taxi driver, Max, on the ferry who said he used to be a “beach boy” at the Westin, and that we are going to just love the Daydreamer cruise. We finally arrive at the courthouse, but they send us across the street to purchase a sarong to cover my short shorts. Luckily the security guard was nice enough to let me borrow his hoodie, and I was sworn in in camouflage. We took the safari taxi back to Red Hook (highly recommend this over an overpriced shuttle taxi), but missed our stop and had to run back ½ a mile to barely catch the noon ferry. Kyla was a trooper. I sustained blisters and broke a sweat. That night, we all met my Dad for dinner at the Banana Deck.
Adventure day. We made sure everyone brought sneakers so we could hike the Lind Point trail to Honeymoon beach. All smiles, only 2 minor tumbles and zero complaints.
Later that night, the girls and I met my step-mom at Longboard for poke bowls, and the guys made full use of the outdoor grill.
Swam with the big kids at Hawksnest Beach while the little ones stayed home. In the afternoon, we took a ride to the other side of Rendezvous Bay to scope out the beach we could see from the Great Expectations webcam and great room. At Ditliff Point, the guys were more interested in how we possibly might procure Villa Cin Cin.
Wedding prep by Ryker
Wedding aboard Daydreamer, April 1, 2019
(photo by Lindsay Vann)
Sobbing at my brother’s speech during reception dinner by Passion Fruit Chefs, table by my niece Kyla. Notice the pocket-stash boutonnière. Steve strung solar Edison lights for us, and we added some fairy lights to the mix.
Last day at Great Expectations — thank you Steve and Carrie for a fabulous stay — everyone ages 3 to 65 loved every second at your beloved villa
Once the villa was cleared out (after 3 trips to the dock), Carrie and Steve let us relax a few extra hours before we checked into our next villa. With the toys and sunscreen put away, and the screaming pool fun died down, we were able to breathe a few deep breaths and take in the week.
Kristine & Jess