Pros: wonderful and diverse island with beaches, restaurants and site seeing.
Cons: Sometimes too many cruise ships.
Two major hurricanes in the last 18 years have dealt tremendous economic hardship for the tourism of the island of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In many other places investors would have just raised their hands and say "Enough already", and bail out of this islands economic future and possible fortunes.
Some did leave, most did not. You see, Saint Thomas has so much natural beauty and so much to offer in sun, fun and shopping that the smart money keeps coming back. This is also true for the tourists who have visited this glorious island.
From what I have read, St Thomas is also the most popular port of call on many cruises. There are people who want to capture a glimpse of its natural beauty, a taste of its many fine restaurants, and the feeling of great savings in the shops that offer many goods greatly discounted from regular U.S. prices and best of all NO TAX!!!
Having been to St Thomas twice in the past 2 years, I understand why this is true.
My wife and I have caught a "Bug" for snorkeling. We have done so in Florida Keys, Mexico, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. We both agree that our best experiences have been in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Though the best overall snorkeling was in Virgin Islands National Park on the Island of St John, St Thomas has some great snorkeling right on the beach of the resort where we stayed.
We stayed at the Antilles@Sapphire Beach at a great price through Hotels.com. Be very careful booking through them. We had made an error. Fortunately for us all worked out well.
One of the beaches to visit is Sapphire Beach. It is in what is called the east end of the island. It's about a 20 minute ride from Cyril E King Airport in Charlotte Amalie where the cruise ships come in. There are other beaches closer to the airport and very close to the University in Charlotte Amalie. We didn't get there. Sapphire Beach I did experience and it was special.
OPEN TO ALL
One quick point I want to add here is that all beaches in St Thomas are open to the public. So even if a resort is beach front, anyone can use the beach. On our stay at the Antilles Sapphire, we encountered small groups from cruises coming over to "our beach." We also saw young children of the locals playing in the water. Though I am not for crowds while on vacation I thoroughly enjoyed watching the tourists, some on there first snorkeling experiences, and the local people sharing the beaches.
Sapphire beach is in a lovely setting. It's about a half a mile crescent shaped beached, with beautiful turquoise waters, and distant island and mountain views.
You can see St John and some of the smaller USVI Islands near by. In the distance you can see the British Virgin Islands of Tortola and Virgin Gorda. We did a one day visit to Virgin Gorda and its world famous Baths it was awesome!!
I love the fact that right from my room I could walk out and snorkel reefs just 30 feet away. In the waters of Sapphire beach we saw a sea turtle, rays, barracuda, some nice coral formations(not the best here), squid, and a fantastic assortment of many other multicolored, shaped, and sized fish.
We visited other beaches too. Megan's Bay is boasted as one of the worlds "Best 10 Beaches." It is so hard for me to compare that way. Megen's Bay from above, I must say is glorious, and compares with any views I have ever seen!
I liked Megan's Bay. Though all the beaches are open to the public, this is more of a public beach. There's a three dollar per person fee to get in, and one dollar for parking.
The beach offers showers, lockers, restrooms, and the best pizza in the Caribbean.
Though I love the private and secluded beaches of St John, I also fully enjoyed this beach for its fast food restaurant and open air bar. It's the simplicity and charm that I love. Let me tell you, if you put some of these places on the beach in Cape Cod, Long Island, or the Jersey Shore(places that I know well), you would say these establishments are dumps. But here in USVI it's paradise.
There are many other beaches in St Thomas, we got to a few of them.
Hull Bay, a public beach with a boat ramp and very interesting coral formations.
Coki Beach which is highly rated and advertised, I didn't like at all. The bottom was polluted with soda cans, corrugated roofing material, and plastic bags. This was a sad sight. Very near by is the aquarium. If you snorkel on the beach on the left and swim to the right to the aquarium, you will have many fish following you, they are used to being fed by divers giving shows near the aquarium.
Beach In Front of the Ritz is in a beautiful setting with snorkeling and reefs.
We spent an afternoon at the Ritz, starting with lunch in the Iguana Restaurant that is out side by the pool. The prices for such an upscale resort, I felt were reasonable. The setting of the hotel grounds, pool, and restaurant are magnificent. The service however was tediously slow. I'm not talking about New Yorkers not used to Caribbean time. I'm talking about bad service. We saw two other couples complain and one couple walked out after having cocktails and waiting much to long for there appetizer. I wish I could recommend this place for lunch, as everything else at the Ritz was extremely inviting.
Like Sapphire Beach the Ritz is on the east end of the Island. This is also where Redhook is. Redhook is really a ferry, boating, and fishing port with a very small town that has built up around it. It's also home of the American Yacht Club. They were in the middle of a Blue Marlin Tournament when we were there. The fishing boats were all lined up like soldiers at the dock after coming in from the 5:30 pm fishing deadline each day. Those boats who caught the sport fish of the tournament flew a white flag from their craft for each Blue Marlin they caught and released.
Redhook has about 10 restaurants. We tried a few of them. For some local flavor. Try the Warehouse, Poor Mans Bar. There you order a drink and the bartender puts all the mixings in front of you and you pour your own. Yes, that includes the Bottle Of Spirits.
Duffies is nearby. It's a very heavily visited bar/restaurant that is a roofed open air eatery right in the middle of a parking lot. Hey, stores are closed at night but the "Bar is open." This place was "really happening" on Friday night. People were at every table and hanging around their cars in the lot, with drinks in hand, listening to pumping music that mixed, rock and roll, reggae, and rap.
Don't get suckered into their mega multi ounce "Volcano" drink for 2 at $13.50. It's a rip off. Ha, look for Red Stripe night @ one dollar a bottle.
For a more traditional place go across the street on the water, to Mollies. Another place upstairs on the deck overlooking the fishing boats is a bar and open air restaurant. Oops, I forgot the name. All the local fishermen were telling tales around the bar and the tourists, us included, sat at the surrounding tables. The drinks and food were good. I loved the atmosphere.
There is a public restroom up stairs in this strip known as the American Yacht Club. Inside this mall area are a couple of shops. There was one where my wife purchased some inexpensive jewelry and a creamery by the name of Stone Cold. That was my favorite, with the best in ice cream flavor and custom mixes put in. A Mr Jones, an ex Navy pilot, owns and runs the place. Be sure to read his list of 11 ways to live your life. It's good and to the point.
There's a hidden parking lot under this building. Park there if you find nothing on the streets. Usually you can but on Friday nights the place is very busy!
FERRY'S and CRUISES
As San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a jumping off place for many planes in the Caribbean, Redhook, is where you ferry to other islands. A bit more in a moment.
As I mentioned earlier, St Thomas is a very popular cruise ship stop. We visited in the summer. The most ships in port then on any given day was three. There weren't any at all three of the days we were there. In the winter, up to 11 cruise ships have been in port. This is great for the many,many, shops, malls and tent outlets of Charlotte Amalie, but can be taxing for those looking for peace and quiet.
Many local fliers, papers, and magazines post the cruise line schedules, on any day where there might be a few ships in, my wife and I could skip town. First we wouldn't go to Charlotte Amalie on these days and second, we found it was a good excuse to ferry out to another island and explore it.
It cost just 3 dollars per person to ferry the 20 min ride to St John. This is a wonderful island that almost 2/3s of is a national park. Its called US Virgin Island National Park You can find reviews of St Johns and USVI National Park in much more detail that I have done . Links are below.
St John is the best in secluded beaches, fun 4-wheel drive travel, and snorkeling reefs. St Croix the furthest of the USVI is also traveled to from Redhook. There is a fast ferry November to April that cuts the time in half. We were thinking of this trip but it didn't work out. We would not have had enough time for a day trip. We did find out that in off season, the summer, you can take a sea plane to St Croix for $85 per person, round trip. Ha, that didn't work out either, my wife dislikes small planes.
Speaking of planes, St Thomas's Cyril E King, just outside Charlotte Amalie on the south side of the island, is the landing area for St Thomas and St John. No, St John has no airports, so if thats your destination you will have to ferry there.
Rented cars and taxis are the main form of transportation on the island. You can work out tours with local taxi drivers, find a tour company or rent a car and do it yourself. There are rentals at the airport. We rented from Budget right in our hotel for about the going rate of $50 per day. Books and magazines older than a year may state that you cannot take a rental car from St Johns to St Thomas and/or back. The fact is, you can do it now for a fee of about $30.
If you tour be sure to go up into the mountains, there are some glorious sights from above. If you come in on a cruise ship you can get some wonderful pictures from the Vistas above looking down into the harbor with your ship. Those crafts look stunningly beautiful in the setting of turquoise waters and island mountains beyond.
Continue on your tour to St Peters great house and botanical garden. This is a must stop. The fee is $10 person, well worth it. Look for half price coupons in the local advertising magazines.
The views from here are absolutely stunning. The grounds and great house are fabulous. Make sure you have your camera.
We spent most of our time on the east end of the island near our resort. We went to a couple of restaurants that were very close to each other. The Agave Terrace and Fungies.
The Agave Terrace is beautifully set on a mountain side with lush tropical gardens. It is elegant dining outside with a steel drum player on Thursday nights. The views in the day and early evening are as good as you can get anywhere. St John and the BVI are in the distance. This could be one of your best bets in dining if you can get past the prices and the snootiness of a particular waiter.
The Caribbean Seafood cuisine was excellently prepared. The atmosphere is wonderful and very romantic. It's worth a try.
Just down the road a piece , and I mean down is Fungies. Don't let anyone suggest you walk there from Agave Terrace. We went from Agave Terrace to Fungies for some dessert and an after dinner drink. Also be sure to bring your reverse driving skills. The parking lot is small and tight.
The place is very cool looking. It is set up with a Jamaican look and fare. It's open and funky. They have a drink that I went for. It's just two bucks. I forgot the name. It has 150 something % rum and insect and worm parts. It was most horrible tasting. I suppose I'll never learn.
The place is inexpensive and bare feet are fine.
A FEW QUICK FACTS
Some of the reasons people like to go to the US Virgin Islands is because IT IS part of the US. The people don't have a vote but do have a representative in congress. Whoops, they can't vote either. Anyways because it is part of the US the primary language is English and the US dollar is the currency used.
The cars on the island are mostly US made. One small change though. All driving is on the left. I didn't find it too hard to negotiate the roads. Some are a bit steep and have blind curves. Be careful and absolutely no drinking and driving!! Always "THINK LEFT" while driving. Don't forget to change that thinking when you return home, unless you live in the UK or such.
Other Virgin Island and Caribbean destinations reviewed by popsrocks .
US Virgin Islands An overview
St. John VI The island that is quiet and pristine.
US Virgin Islands National Park This park is awesome with private beaches and fantastic snorkeling!
Westin Resort, St John VI
St. Thomas VI An Island that has action!
Magen's Bay One of the ten best beaches in the world. National Geographic
Coki Beach, St Thomas Why go?
The Ritz Carlton, St Thomas real class!!
Sapphire Beach and Marina A good value on St Thomas VI
Antilles@Sapphire Beach, St Thomas VI
The BATHS of the British Virgin IslandsLike nothing else you have ever seen!
Barcelo Resort, Dominican Republic
Allegro Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Hotel Mayaland, Mexico
Sandals, Negril, Jamaica
Renaissance Jamaica Grand, Ocho Rios
Jamaica, Jamaica me laugh, Jamaica me cry
Megan's Bay in St Thomas is listed in the book 1,000 Places To See Before You Die It's good reading and dreaming.