We just returned on Friday and overall we had a great trip. Here are a few thoughts...
Overall condition of the islands - Better than I thought it would be and there should be no hesitation to visit now. St. John is in much better shape than the BVI, but the BVI people are putting things back together. It seems that the level of financial support for St. John has been more significant than what the BVI people have received. We drove through Virgin Gorda one day and as expected it was in the worst condition.
Coral/Snorkeling - The damage varied by location, but there are plenty of places to go where the quality of snorkeling is in line with previous years (e.g. The Indians). We saw tons of fish, turtles, etc. We also saw newly generating coral in a number of spots - including more small sea fans than I remember from prior years - so I hope this is a part of the regeneration process.
Seaweed - We saw some patches in open water the size of our our boat, but this was rare. It is there, but it is only a problem for beaches or anchorages that face east or southeast. When we drove through Virgin Gorda by car and came down off the mountain (heading south) into town, the smell was terrible. We also smelled it a few times riding from the airport on Tortola to the Moorings base. However, we had no major issues with it otherwise. EXCEPT - Our generator turned off one morning about 4:00 am in White Bay, Jost on a ball in front of Ivan's. It would re-fire with the primer held, but would turn off. This led me to look at the temperature gauge, which I would have normally thought of first if it hadn't been 4:00 am. Of course, the generator had overheated and turned off. I left it off and a few hours later determined that we must have a clogged intake. The strainer in the boat had some grass, but not much. However, prior to the strainer, the intake has a 90 degree turn where the through hull is located. I jumped in the water with my snorkeling mask and it looked like a plant was growing out of the intake. After about 20 minutes with a butter knife, the clogged intake was cleared and the generator ran perfect the rest of the trip. The main lesson is that the seaweed is floating in with the direction of the wind. If you anchor / moor in a spot where it is floating in from open water, check your generator intake regularly.
Family time - It was just me and my wife and our two daughters. If you want a family trip and aren't confident taking out a boat without a captain, I highly encourage you to learn. I have 12 and 14 year old daughters, and having time with just our family on the boat is really special.
Itinerary - This was our third year and I thought I had learned the lesson of not overdoing it - WRONG! My wife cried again mid trip because we were doing too much. We had 13 nights and we wanted to hit Anegada and St. John, so we moved a lot in the first week. We also had a crazy week leading up to the trip. I learned a few valuable lessons:
1) Check in with your crew regularly. Me and my 14 year old daughter love the boat, but my wife and 12 years old love the islands and are okay being on a boat. If we move too much and create too much work, and if we sleep in rougher spots, their level of enjoyment drops fast.
2) This is entirely personal preference and is affected by us being on a powercat, but we learned that we like to move the boat later in the afternoons instead of in the mornings or during the day. After three years, my 14 year old daughter can completely handle the boat - including putting it on moorings in wind around other boats. Therefore, we learned on this trip that booze cruising in the afternoon was quite fun. I would only have a few drinks just in case, but my 14 year old (who loves to drive) would move the boat and my 12 year old was our DJ. The wind also tends to be down in the afternoon. Last, we are in place to enjoy the next morning without the need to move the boat. One example: The seaweed was blowing into Anegada's anchorage and we were not planning to eat on shore anyway, so we left Anegada at 4:15 pm and cruised at 10.5 knots to Jost! I know this sounds like pushing it and crazy, but we had the most amazing cruise in calm seas with the sun setting off our starboard hull. We even saw a few dolphins on the way. We pulled in at 6:55 pm with enough light and an available mooring ball in front of Ivan's. The ironic thing is that we left to avoid the seaweed and this was the night we picked it up at Ivan's.
3) St. John is amazing, and with the customs office now open in Cruz Bay, the check in / check out process is really easy and inexpensive (it is even easier if you get forms and fill them out in advance - I highly recommend this and don't forget to take a picture of your completed forms for next trip). However, there really isn't a good place to stay overnight if you want to go to Cruz Bay for dinner and return after dark. We stayed on Great Cruz one night and in front of Caneel another night. I had a strong spotlight and my phone iSailor app, but it is still pushing it at night. On the second night, we were rounding the point headed toward Caneel around 9:00 pm and our dinghy motor turned off. The wind was blowing pretty hard toward St. Thomas - not good! Fortunately, the motor re-fired and we were fine. I think we inadvertently crimped the fuel line. We love St. John so much that we are considering staying on St. John at the beginning or end of our trip next year so we don't have to visit by boat.
4) Oil Nut Bay - We visited on a rainy day and rented a car from Nick and crew at Leverick since we were hitting Coco Maya that night anyway. It is beautiful, but your time there is somewhat limited by the fact that the staff tries to leave around 4:00 pm. The earliest ferry from Gun Creek is 10:30 am and the latest ferry back is at 3:30 pm. You don't have a ton of time before and after lunch and lunch is pretty slow if you are behind the crowd. Therefore, make sure you are sitting for lunch by 11:45 am if you want to enjoy the pool or beach for any meaningful time after lunch. Overall, it is beautiful and it worked out for us since it was a rainy day, but we could go either way with this on future trips. By the way, the channel from Bitter End to Oil Nut Bay is now well marked if you want visit by boat or dinghy.
Groceries - We provisioned with RiteWay and had a good experience, but it is so hard to keep produce. We will no longer buy produce that we don't plan to use in a few days.
Water toys - The difference in quality between what is provided from Moorings and BVISUPCO is significant and the prices are close. I highly recommend calling Craig or Fiona with BVISUPCO.COM. They also offer uncommon things like beach chairs and saddle floats.
Willy T - GO. The new location is great!
Flying though San Juan - The difference between flying home (with all of the necessary steps) on Friday and Saturday is significant. The cruise ships contribute to this. Fly home on a day other than Saturday! Because it was Friday with low traffic, we got off the Seaborne plan, got our bags, cleared customs, went through the USDA check, rechecked our bags, and went through security in less than an hour.
I can't think of anything else. Sorry this is so long, there is so much to share. Last recommendation, go for more than 7 days!!!