The British Virgin Islands are a top bareboat charter destination from the US and Canada. And I periodically get questions about how to provision there. A while back, I wrote about charter meal planning to answer some of the questions.
Since then, several readers have sent me information on provisioning companies/grocery stores they’ve used that offer online ordering. If you are using one, make sure to read all the “fine print” on payment, returns and any extra fees. I don’t know of anyone who has really had a bad experience, just that you should know what the terms of the agreement are as they are not all the same.
Note that most companies do state prices online but make some sort of a statement that they are approximate and subject to change when the order is actually filled. Therefore, while you’ll have an estimate of your cost, you won’t know the final bill until your order is delivered to you.
I’ve also had a few emails about other specialty provisioning options — pre-cooked frozen meals and a couple of seafood options — and have included that information here, too.
We used Ample Hamper for all three of our charters in the BVI and were very happy with the service — but the last charter we did there was over 13 years ago and thus the current situation could be different. At the time it was the only option for Soper’s Hole unless you wanted to shop yourself at a local grocery. Locations in West End and Road Town; free delivery anywhere on Tortola if order is over $125. Offers full online ordering and multiple people can work on an order over several days. Considered the priciest overall but also carries the most “specialty” and “luxury” items. (Note: the website for Ample Hamper is no longer available.)
UPDATE November 2016: A reader reported a bad experience with Ample Hamper being late with a delivery and missing items.
Bobby’s Market Place
Two readers have said they’ve used Bobby’s and been very happy. LaDonna (she didn’t leave a last name) said “We’ve used Bobby’s on 3 occasions and had great service. . . . We usually spent the morning after our sleep aboard running to pick out our own fresh veggies and Bobby’s would even pick us up and return us to the charter company.” With Bobby’s, you download their forms (PDF or Excel), complete them, and then email them back — complete instructions are on the site. Located in Road Town; free delivery on Tortola. Very popular and friendly service; good prices. Visit their web site
RiteWay Food Markets
Rite Way has 7 locations on Tortola (near most of the major charter bases) and full online ordering. My experience is that their web site works well in Internet Explorer and Chrome but the dropdown menus sometimes have problems in Firefox (I’m on a PC; don’t know about a Mac). So if you have problems in one browser, try a different one. While I know of many people who bought “extra stuff” by walking into one of their stores, I don’t know anyone who has used the online provisioning. Free delivery on Tortola. Tends to have the best prices and their new flagship store (Pasea) is fantastic if shopping in person; word of mouth is that Bobby’s is easier to work with if you are ordering online — maybe why no one had used RiteWay’s online ordering? Visit their web site
Tico is a low-cost source for alcoholic drinks, but they have a $150 minimum order for free delivery on Tortola during normal business hours. LaDonna used them instead of Bobby’s for drinks and was very happy. In checking out their site, I noticed that while still not cheap compared to typical US supermarket prices, Tico’s price on a case of Budweiser cans was remarkably cheaper — $21.95 at Tico, $35.59 at RiteWay and $27.20 at Ample Hamper. At that rate, it could be worth it to pay the $9.95 delivery fee if you don’t meet the $150 minimum order size for free delivery! Another thing that I noticed about Tico is that they have a fair number of wines under $10 per bottle. Online ordering, although it must be completed in one sitting. Visit their web site
BVI Fishing Complex
Great for fresh local fish and seafood, but no ordering, delivery or web site — you have to go there in person. About 1 mile from the Moorings base in Port Purcell, Road Town (I’m told to ask directions at the Moorings office). Open normal business hours on weekdays and Saturday mornings.
The BVIs are all about tourism and yacht charters are a big part of that. Do not worry about finding food or snacks along the way if you don’t get it all at the beginning. There are numerous smaller grocery and convenience stores all over the islands. Lots of great little bakeries and plenty of bars and restaurants, too.
Know of another great option that I didn’t mention? Or perhaps had a disappointing experience and want to pass on what NOT to do? Leave a note for others in the comments!
Dawn Rigsbee says
Great site! We have been fortunate to have chartered in the BVIs every year for the past 7 years. We thought we would try the newer Riteway this year (2014). What a fiasco. I would hope to save others my woes. The online shopping couldn’t have been easier, and I was so very hopeful. On the day of delivery, we waited patiently for our 9 am delivery which partially arrived 3 hrs late. The crew on our neighboring boat went to Bobbys market and returned to stock their galley before we finally called Riteway to question our delivery time, and we’re assured it was on the way. An hour later, half of our provisions arrived and the delivery gentleman said take it up with provisioning as he drove away. My second call resulted in another small portion of food being delivered another hour later. As the afternoon was quickly waning, I called a third time and spoke to a manager about removing the remaining $75 dollars worth of items which were missing. He agreed quickly, however an email generated soon after noted my bill would be slightly higher as seasonal costs on certain items had escalated since our order placement. Despite my follow up, Riteway has not refunded money. Think long and hard when provisioning with Riteway, I will be sticking with our tried and true Bobbys. 1st mate and galley chef, Dawn Rigsbee
Carolyn Shearlock says
I am so sorry to hear of your experience, but thanks for sharing with others. That’s awful!
Dec. 2014 was my second charter trip in the BVIs. The first trip was several years ago. We had drinks delivered and shopped at Bobby’s the morning before heading out to stock the galley – no complaints. This time, we thought we would try to provision online. Big mistake. First off, the delivery was 4+ hours late, and long past the time that they said deliveries were stopped for the night. The driver said he had lost cooling as we’ll, as we noted several items that should have been cold were warm. As we went through the items, there were several issues. Apparently items out of stock were replaced by whatever was around (i.e. A bag of ground coffee we had ordered was replaced by a bag of whole bran coffee – big issue with a limited charter galley). Several produce items were spoiled and moldy. The strip steaks that we had ordered were substituted for the fattiest looking filet mignons I’ve ever seen, and they were gray and smelled off. Purchasing online ended up causing a great deal of frustration, as we spent 2 hours the next morning trying to make them straighten out the mess. We finally forced them to refund any items that we had issues with and went to Bobby’s for remaining items. I think Riteway is using the provisioning program to offload spoiled food to charters, and they only made things more complicated when caught at it, rather than fixing the issues quickly so we could start enjoying our vacation. We will go to Bobby’s next time.
Carolyn Shearlock says
Interesting . . . well, not interesting but too bad. Our charters there were a number of years ago and Ample Hamper did a pretty good job (a few things missing), although it was pricey (but not as bad as going through the charter company). I think if we go there again, I’d use Bobby’s . . . and maybe plan the time to go there in person.
We’ve provisioned through Riteway’s online ordering 4 times over the last several years and they have always been great. There has been the occasional creative item fulfillment like ordering some cookie “biscuits” and getting Ritz crackers, but we figure that just adds to the fun of the charter.
We also used Tico on our charter last year. They were excellent. They emailed us because our beer choice was going to reach it’s expiration date while we were there and they offered us a discount on it or a chance to change the order.
Sarah von Hoven says
I have been bareboating chartering for over 10 years and I have yet to figure the perfect provisioning situation out. I get frustrated with the lackadaisical island attitude but I will never be able to change that so I have frosty cold beers or two and march on. Here are a few of the local finds that I have been using to charter a boat out of Nanny Cay Marina for the past three years. Both Rite Way and Bobbies have their inherent issues ( as mentioned above.) So I have discovered some locals that are doing a terrific job providing delicious choices….here they are:
Family Bakery – [email protected] They are definitely nor bathing suit friendly but their make from scratch goods are out of this world. I usually get a giant quiche for our first morning out and then have some left for a quick lunch with a salad or fruit. Some of my other favorites particularly for quick breakfast options that I can freeze then pull out are: The sausage rolls, lemon poppy seed loaf, assorted muffins and tarts. Lunches like meat pies and chicken and leek pie are dynamite! All of the breads are nice but I recall they won’t sliced them, maybe that has changed. Since the boats we are on never have nice knives, having things pre-sliced are a must for me. The Traiteur selections are kinda expensive for me and I can’t say that I love them all. The tzatziki was lacking enough cucumbers and salt and the garlic was overpowering. However all of the hummus and naan I’ve ever gotten were wonderful.
The other company I’m in love with is: http://goodmoonfarm.com
I’ve only been using them for three years and they have increased their availability vastly but I’ve yet to be comfortable enough to plan a shopping list around products that they provided ( or don’t). Things I can count on them having are delicious and fresh herbs and lettuces. Last year I tried the biscuits and I will be ordering them in excess this year. I am hoping that this year I can get confirmation of their meats in advance so I can have organic meat on the boat but as I said I am still going to have a back up place for when they arrive without calling in advance to tell me they didn’t have the products. Anyway, they’re produce is completely worth checking out.
I am still awaiting the day when the BVI discovers what we found further south, the entrepreneurial fisherman who comes around to the boast with his fresh catch. Sometimes he would have fresh breads and butter too. I’ve seen this at Norman Island on a much less professional manner but I would never buy anything off a boat there that I didn’t have to boil first. I had the BEST dinner of my sailing life in Tabago Cay when one such entrepreneurial man and his mother cooked lobster and root vegetables on shore and brought them out to our boat. For 6 of us he wanted $50 for the whole thing 🙂
If anyone has any other loves in the BVI LMK, I’m heading back in 8 long weeks.
It’s nice to know that some people come back to the BVI year after year, and you certainly have sampled the best we have to offer – except one maybe… Have you tried Ms Penguin prepared meals? We can’t promise organic but we do have gluten free and vegetarian items and each container serves two hungry people. Also, if you have any special dietary needs please let us know as we could probably accommodate you given enough notice. At the moment one of the supermarket’s shelves are almost empty and what they do have should have been thrown out. It’s not always easy to get ingredients here and usually involves visiting all the supermarkets.
In October 2012, I provisioned online with RiteWay – canned/dry goods only. Service prior to arrival was excellent, delivery was on time and prompt. I prefer to buy my own produce and meat, so had to factor that into the time budget. That worked well for me because then I could take advantage of sale items that I wouldn’t have known about.
Nancy Miller says
BVI Sailors! For the most delicious on-board dinners, order your meals thru Ms. Penguin! We found out about Ms. Penguin frozen foods via Moorings 18 years ago as we learned the crewed charter companies would Ms. Penguin for their on-board dinners. Now we know why….ALL her offerings taste healthy and home made. Add a salad and starch to her entree’s and “voila” — perfect onboard, easy dinners. Our sailor pals are all foodies—everyone agreed, her food cannot be beat. Boat galleys are funky but the ovens are consistent. AND, owner Christianne Peçanha, is the most lovely person! Visit her at her store near Moorings/Sunsail or order enough so her company will delivery. You will not be disappointed! AND, I saw some other sailors thought her food was pricey. By the time you purchase ingredients, use precious water for cleaning and preparing, add in the cost for restaurant drinks — you cannot beat Ms. Penguin. Her portions are large too! EnjoyE
Jan Bogart says
Just read of people who check a 50lb. bag of frozen food on their flight, even better.
We chartered over Thanksgiving 2016, and provisioned online with Riteway, Tico, and BVI Organics. My experiences:
Riteway: though they also offered a package, it turned out to be much, much cheaper to use their package information as a guide and select items on my own, though it took a lot of time, of course. As mentioned above they did some creative substitution of some items; they also omitted some items entirely with no explanation (and the only way to figure out what they were was to compare the receipt the driver gave me with my online receipt). One of our party had to taxi to the store to buy the things that were omitted – some of them she made substitutions for, others they actually had but … had just left out?
Tico – easy to order, easy delivery. Good selection.
BVI Organics – super responsive by email, small selection but high quality products. One of our party has celiac disease and so required gluten free items, and we were able to supply her easily from their website. They also responded to a text the day before our scheduled delivery asking for extra items, and were able to bring them. Really nice people, too!
Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious) says
I’ve been chartering in the BVI since 1983(ish). I’ve used charter companies, Ample Hamper, and the local groceries to provision charters and deliveries heading back to the U.S. East Coast. I’ve been in the BVI about four times since the hurricanes last year.
Here is the short version.
Charter company provisioning usually ends up with a lot of extra food. many companies have a “first night” package with heavy appetizers and libations to get your through the first night. Recommended.
Ample Hamper was at one time the best quality and value for yacht provisioning. Those days are past. Now they are just expensive and service is not what it was.
I’ve used both Bobby’s and RiteWay since the hurricane. I’d use whichever is closer and more convenient but be prepared to fill in your shopping list at the other place. I think RiteWay is nicer and more complete. Both deliver pre-orders. For delivery of provisioning my choice is RiteWay.
The BVI has pulled themselves up by their bootstraps after the storms. They have done more with less than places like Puerto Rico. Power and cellular service were first back up. As of June 2018 there are still places including Cane Garden Bay without water although there are daily deliveries to community cisterns. Businesses are open.
Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda are recovering well. I haven’t been to Anegada since the storms.
Chef Sam says
Sorry to hear of your bad experience there is a provisioning team call First Choice Provisioning they are excellent from follow up to shopping to on time delivery why not give them a try today you won’t regret it.
Dawn Ackley says
Is Ms. Penguin still operating??