Virgin Island traveler
The U.S. Virgin Islands
Picture yourself on a sunny beach surrounded by clear blue warm Caribbean waters. It is just a fantasy for most people, but it can be a reality if you know how to make the most of your travel plans. I have been a frequent visitor to these awesome islands so I will give you my best tips.
What you need to know about the U.S. Virgin Islands
There are three major islands in the chain; St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix along other smaller islands that fall into the U.S. territory. Because it is a part of the United States, U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to enter. But if you plan to sail into the nearby British Island, it is a good idea to have your passport with you because there will be customs locations that will require your documents.
The island of St. Thomas has a major airport (STT) if you are arriving by plane and that island is also a major cruise ship port. The island of St. John does not have an airport but can be reached by ferry boat or water taxi and it is best known for its U.S. National Park system and eco-friendly beaches. The island of St. Croix is the largest of the three and has more population and residential area.
The British Virgin Islands are a close boat ride from any of the USVI and it makes a perfect day trip for sailing. Most beaches are free to the public have provisions for food and drink and restrooms but bring money to plan ahead for customs fees and souvenirs.
Currency on the USVI is in U.S. dollars and there are plenty of duty free shops that cater to the many tourists. On the island of St. Thomas, the city of Charlotte Amalie is well known for the best deals on jewelry, liquor and electronics such as cameras. You can bring back up to 5 liters of alcohol duty free. It is a shopping mega but can also be crowded with tourists. So plan on taking advantage of the great shopping bargains and local markets that offer some unique clothing and fabrics.
St Thomas is a frequent stop for cruises boats and so be aware that there may be days when 3 or more cruise boats are docked and the crowds will fill up the area shops and restaurants. If you want to avoid the stampede, review the cruise docking schedule ahead of your shopping days.
Peak travel to the islands is from December to April so hotel prices and travel will be more expensive. Look for the best deals during the off season or August through October.
Where to stay
Major hotels such as Marriott and Westin are available across the islands at a luxury price with all the amenities and there are many vacation homes to rent if you have a large group or plan a extended visit.
Also consider a vacation villa rental since they typically have a full kitchen and pool access. Many of the villas start at one bedroom up to three bedroom with all the maid services and plus kitchens and washer/dryers. Since food is expensive when eating out, it helps to have a kitchen so you can plan your own meals or a beach picnic. Check the local newsletters and booklets for coupons and discounts at restaurants.
No car, no problem
Water taxi service and ferry boats are available on all the islands so you may not need a rental car.
If you plan on driving, remember than the cars are U.S. made so the steering wheel will be on the left side of the car but the roadways are British style. So you will need to learn how to navigate and drive on the left side of the road. This may be a challenge for many so consider the bus and taxi service for getting around the winding roads of the islands.
There are many open air taxi vehicles that can accommodate large groups of 15 or more and they make frequent stops to all the popular shopping areas.
Activities to enjoy
All water sports are available from scuba diving to sailing. I highly recommend a sailing trip to get the best views of the island, even it you only do a sunset sail. The scenery from the water is extraordinary and you will get to see all the beach areas that you can plan to explore the next day.
The islands are great for hiking trails, particularly on St. John, where the U.S. National Park system makes up the majority of the land area and it is important to respect and preserve the natural beauty of the area. There are over 7,000 acres of protected park on St. John.
Enjoy your adventure in the Virgin Islands, it is well worth the effort to get there and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.