The U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix—may fly the American flag, but “America’s Paradise” is in reality a mix of the foreign and familiar that offers something for everyone to enjoy. The history, beautiful beaches, myriad activities, good food, and no-passport-required status make the Virgin Islands an inviting beach destination for many Americans.
EXPLORE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, United, and US Airways fly to St. Thomas from the United States. Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines fly from San Juan.
On St. Thomas the island’s large buses make public transportation a very comfortable—though slow—way to get from east and west to Charlotte Amalie and back (service to the north is limited). Buses run about every 30 minutes from stops that are clearly marked with Vitran signs. Fares are $1 between outlying areas and town and 75¢ for journeys within town. Some open-air safari vans also follow the bus routes, and these drivers charge the same fares as Vitran—hence their nickname “dollar buses.”
You will want to rent a car if you are staying in a private villa, but if you are staying in a hotel on the beach, you can usually get by with taxis, though getting a taxi every day can be expensive. If you are a family or group of four, then a car can be a more cost-effective solution since taxi rates are per person.
Traffic can be bad, especially in Charlotte Amalie at rush hour (7 to 9 and 4:30 to 6). If you need to get from an East End resort to the airport during these times, find the alternate route (starting from the East End, Route 38 to 42 to 40 to 33) that goes up the mountain and then drops you back onto Veterans Highway. All drivers should get a copy of Road Map St. Thomas–St. John, available on the island anywhere you find maps and guidebooks. In addition, most GPS units will work in the Virgin Islands and some car-rental agencies will rent out GPS devices.
Major car-rental companies, including Avis, Budget, and Hertz have locations at the airport; Avis and Budget also have branch offices. Local rental companies include Dependable Car Rental and Discount Car Rental.
There’s frequent service from St. Thomas to St. John and Tortola, and less frequent service to Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. Virgin Islands ferry schedules are published on the website of the Virgin Islands Vacation Guide & Community. There’s also a ferry from Charlotte Amalie’s waterfront to the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Hotel. In St. Thomas, ferries leave from both Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook. Remember that a passport is now required to travel between the USVI and BVI by ferry. Schedules change, so you should confirm current schedules with the ferry companies.
USVI taxis charge per person and have set prices. Drivers usually take multiple fares, especially from the airport, ferry docks, and the cruise-ship terminal. Most taxis are either safari-style or enclosed, air-conditioned vans. They can be hailed on the street (especially in town and near major shopping malls and attractions) and can also be called by telephone. There are taxi stands in Charlotte Amalie across from Emancipation Garden (in front of Little Switzerland, behind the post office) and along the waterfront. V.I. Taxi Association has exclusive rights to pick up customers at Cyril E. King Airport, Havensight Cruise Ship Dock, Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort, Sugar Bay Resort, and Sapphire Beach Resort.
The major banks on St. Thomas are First Bank, Banco Popular, and Scotia Bank, each of which has several branches in convenient locations.
The beauty of St. Thomas and its sister islands has attracted a cadre of professionally trained chefs who know their way around fresh fish and local fruits. You can dine on everything from terrific cheap local dishes such as goat water (a spicy stew) and fungi (a cornmeal polenta-like side dish) to imports such as hot pastrami sandwiches and raspberries in crème fraîche.
You can let yourself be pampered at a luxurious resort, or, if your means are more modest, you can find cheaper hotels in lovely settings throughout the island. There are also guesthouses and inns with great views (if not a beach at your door) and great service at about half the cost of what you’ll pay at the beachfront pleasure palaces. Many of these are west and north of Charlotte Amalie or in the overlooking hills—ideal if you plan to get out and mingle with the locals. There are also inexpensive lodgings (most right in town) that are perfect if you just want a clean room to return to after a day of exploring or beach-bumming. East End condominium complexes are popular with families. Although condos are pricey, they have full kitchens, and you can definitely save money by cooking for yourself—especially if you bring some of your own nonperishable foodstuffs. Though you may spend some time laboring in the kitchen, many condos ease your burden with daily maid service and on-site restaurants; a few also have resort amenities, including pools and tennis courts.
To be safe, keep your hotel or vacation villa door locked at all times, stick to well-lighted streets at night, and use the same kind of street sense that you would in any unfamiliar territory. Don’t wander the streets of Charlotte Amalie alone at night. If you plan to carry things around, rent a car—not an open-air vehicle—and lock possessions in the trunk. Keep your rental car locked wherever you park. Don’t leave cameras, purses, and other valuables lying on the beach while you snorkel for an hour (or even for a minute), no matter how many people are nearby.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.