Pros:A beautiful and diverse set of islands.
Cons:When cruise ships come in.
The Bottom Line: This is the US, every one speaks English, the people a wonderful and friendly and the beaches are gorgeous. What's not to like?
I'll update this review a bit with information from our last stay that was in St Croix July '06 at the end.
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I update this review with a bit more information about St Thomas and I will move some of the information about Virgin Islands National Park into it's own new home.
I have been to the US Virgin Islands two times. Last year was primarily in St John with some brief time in St Thomas. This time we stayed in St Thomas six days and spent one day in ST John.
ARRIVAL and TRANSPORTATION
Both times we came into the USVI through Cyril E King Airport. We were greeted with a glass of rum punch each time. This was a nice touch and after riding in the plane a few hours it was perfectly timed. The airport is small and very efficient. No problems here with baggage or meeting transportation.
St John does not have an airport so any trips there from out of country would require landing in St Thomas, taking a taxi to Redhook which is about a half hour drive and then a twenty minute ferry ride to St John.
The taxi drivers are always asking if you need a cab. We were there in the summer both times. The friendly competition is tough. Many cabs, few fares.
Taxi and renting cars are the two primary ways of getting around the island. Be sure to make arrangements for an airport car before getting there if you want a car. The day we arrived two of the three major rental places were out of cars. Rentals, however, were plentiful throughout St Thomas and St John.
In a years time it seems the rental places have worked together to keep the prices up. Last year I was able to negotiate a $35.00 per day rate. This year it was a little over $50.00. They all held pretty firm in their prices. There are many small independent places but they only offered a few dollars less.
Remember that driving is on the left side of the road in American cars with the steering wheels on the left. Just always "Think Left". I was able to negotiate the roads fairly well. Some roads are very steep and signs are not always on every corner. It really isn't bad driving. Most of the locals drive at a reasonable pace. There were very few speeders. This is also the land of the speed bump.
Just a note. Until this year you could not rent a car on one island and bring it to another. You may read some older books that state that. This year they started allowing the ferry crossing of cars by those who were renting. You do have to see if it is worth it. The price for the ferry is 30.00.
If you are staying in St John and planning to rent a car there, maybe it would be wise to rent the car at the airport and then take over to St John on the ferry. Be sure to check and see if your hotel has any kind of complimentary airport pick up. When we stayed at the Westin in St John they had a ferry service very close to the airport that took us right to the hotels beach.
There are buses that run across the island every half hour or so. They are only one dollar and are the best rate around. Most people don't have the luxury of waiting around and pay the cab fees that can add up after a while.
Prices in the cab are per person, per destination. Ask prices before moving on. There are no meters. Some guys will be happy to give you their card so you can call them for a ride. Negotiate if you are a family. If it's just two of you pay the reasonable fares. For two of us we paid $28.00 with luggage to get to the airport from the Redhook area.
I found the people on the island of St Thomas very friendly, polite, and sociable. It took a bit of time for some of the locals that worked in the Westin Resort in ST John, where we stayed last year, to warm up to us.
There are many transplanted continental Americans that have taken up residence on the islands. They work hard for their money waiting tables and tending bar but they have the rest of the lifestyle they want. I can see how tempting that change in address can be. The islands are beautiful.
The US Virgin Islands uses American money. How about that? They even speak English. There are ATMs available, though, not as many as in the States. It's always good to have a supply of singles for taxi tips etc.
Having only been in St John and St Thomas I can't tell you much about the furthest island away St. Croix.
I can tell you that St Thomas is the populated busy island while ST John is the very quiet one. From what I have read St Croix is somewhere in between.
St Croix also has Buck Island National Park. We are planning to do St Croix next summer.
What makes ST John unique is that most of the island is a National Park, US Virgin Island National Park. This means no building or commercial use of the land. Most of the park was once owned by Lawrence Rockefeller who had the wisdom to grant the land to the government for use by the people of generations to come. He also did the same in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. He gave land that is now their National Parks. We visited the world famous BVI Baths this time down there. One word says it all. "AWESOME".
The VI National Park has some great beaches and areas of its own. I have moved most of the information about the park to it's own new place here at Epinions. You can follow the link at the end of this piece. Do be sure to go around to all the best beaches of the Virgin Islands. They are very cool and fun to explore. Add another star if you enjoy snorkeling. There is some great coral reefs to check out.
ONE TOWN and a COUPLE of RESORTS
Cruz Bay is where the ferries come into St John on it's western shore. It's really a pretty small town and can be known pretty well after a day or two of walking around. There are a few small restaurants that have local character in town. There are some nice little shops too. Don't miss Mongoose Junction This is St John's faint answer to the shopping mecca of St Thomas's Charlotte Amalie. The junction is an interesting building and has a couple of fine restaurants too. My wife and I enjoyed them very much.
Across the street from the Mongoose Junction is the Virgin Island National Park Visitors Center. You can get a lot of beach, snorkeling, and trail information there. You can get more information about St John if you follow that link later.
There are only two main resorts on this Island, Caneel Bay and the Westin Resort. We stayed at the Westin last year. There are many villas for rent through out the island, especially in the Cruz Bay area. Grocery stores and supermarkets are in Cruz Bay too. Gas stations are on the island. Expect to pay a little over two dollars a gallon.
Very different from the quiet beaches of ST John are the very populated ones of St Thomas. I actually thought I might be disappointed staying at the ST Thomas beaches after our ST John experience of pristine beaches and waters. St Thomas was just a different kind of place, though enjoyable. Our hotel right on Sapphire beach was excellent. We stayed at the Antilles@ Sapphire Beach Resort We actually booked the wrong place through Hotels.com. My wife and I thought we were booking the Sapphire Beach and Marina. That's another whole tale to tell you about. We lucked out and kind of stayed at both places. We also stopped by the Ritz-Carlton Resort for lunch. This place is beautiful with the finest of service. A great off season seat can be made.
We went to the world class beach of Megen's Bay. Some magazines say it's one of the worlds ten most beautiful beaches. Ha, I remember it best for the great pizza the made there. It is pretty, especially when viewed from the mountains. There are lockers, showers and quaint places to grab some finger foods on the beach.
We also went to Hull Bay. It is a beach with a boat ramp. It is a busy place but has some very interesting coral formations and is worth a look.
Coki Beach that is mentioned often did nothing for me. There were coke cans in the water (is that why they call it Coki?) and other such pollutants. It really turned me off. Others like it. Get there early because parking can be a problem. Coral World is just up the road a bit from Coki.
I love driving and I particularly enjoy mountain roads. There were some glorious views from atop the high peeks. We visited St Peters Great House and botanical gardens. This is definitely worth a ride to. Look for the half off coupons in many of the travel magazines in every hotel. It's then just $5.00 each. Ha, they even have coolers full of rum or virgin punch for the taking. Remember, you must drive back down the mountain. and another reminder to, "Think Left".
Blackbeard and Bluebeard stories and places to go dominate the island. The shopping area of Charlotte Amalie has many original buildings where pirates kept their booty.
We went to a restaurant in town called Gladys's. Excellent with fair prices. I found there are a few very overpriced eateries on the island. The prices of appetizers are what I would expect to pay for entrees.
CRUISE SHIPS and SHOPPING
Try to stay away from town when the cruise ships are in. You will find listings of cruise days in much of the local literature. One of our cabbies was telling us that in the winter up to 11 ships may be in port at one time!!
The shopping in the small stores is fun. You can get some real jewelry bargains. Linens are hot too.
If you want some "real shopping" you can go to K-Mart. Ha, did you know there are three of them in the USVI. Two in St Thomas and one in ST Croix.
This is the place to go if you are going to bring home some bottles of spirits. The prices are forty to fifty percent cheaper than here in the states. Most of the times the prices were even a little less than at the duty free at the airport.
Another point is that the islands charge no tax. If the item is 50.00 that's what you need 50.00. I love that.
We were on the east end of the island about a mile from Redhook when we stayed at the Antilles@ Sapphire Beach. Red hook is where ferries to the other US and British Virgin Islands depart. It is also a town that is dominated by fisherman during the weeks Blue Marlin Tournament. Every night was a party when the boats came into the American Yacht Club. We had a few good nights in that tiny town.
St Thomas also has many large resorts and hotels. We spent an afternoon at the luxurious Carlton Ritz. The Wyndham, Best Western, Hyatt, and many other properties are scattered around the island.
We have traveled to the US Virgin Islands in the summer. The weather is actually quite comfortable out of the sun. There are constant trade winds out of the east that make the 85 degree weather quite comfortable. The sun is HOT. Be sure to wear sunblock and tan slowly. I am fairly dark and tan easily. Though I went to the island with a good tan I still needed and used sun block. I still got a little burn on my back one day.
A couple we met had gone out on one of the all day sailing trips. He came back to the island with some pretty serious burns. Though he was a fool not to cover up I feel the guys who run the boat should strongly insist there guests cover up with some lotion. Many of these cruises offer open bars. That to adds an element of "stupidity". The sun can be very dangerous. Use caution, use your brain. The guy we met was in pain for three days. Not a great way to spend a vacation.
Do expect to see days with mixed sun and clouds. Almost every day low puffy clouds come in. They are welcome most of the time. Sometimes they bring a fleeting shower. It's just a quick cool off and then they are gone.
We have read in a few places to bring bug spray if going in August. We have been there twice and there are no signs of mosquitoes or other pests. Next year we are leaving the deet home.
One of the reasons we have been going to the islands in the summer is because it is low season. You can get some really great prices!! We were originally going to spend a week or so in Montauk Point. That is about fifty miles east of where I live. It's a seaside community. When we priced it out we realized that we actually paid a bit less flying and staying in St Thomas than what it would have cost just staying there.
I say forget about Montauk Point, Cape Cod, and the Jersey Shore. Pack your bags and spend time in the US Virgin Islands.
Update July 2006.
I just returned back from a trip to St Croix with my wife. We loved the place but still prefer St John as our favorite overall.
We stayed at the Bucacaneer Hotel. It is excellent. I do say you should consider a car to really get to see the island. It is bigger than the other two. It also has some pretty cool places to visit. I am much more detailed in my review of St Croix. The link is below.
A few helpful books
Coral Fish A Book That Displays Incredibly Colourful Fish and Educates Snorkelers and Divers
Frommer's Caribbean 2005 My Bible To Warm Destinations
National Parks for Dummies A great book for planning a trip
National Geographic Guide to National Parks A good reference book
Other Virgin Island and Caribbean destinations reviewed by popsrocks
St. John VI The island that is quiet and pristine.
Westin Resort, St John VI
US Virgin Islands National Park This park is awesome with private beaches and fantastic snorkeling!
St. Thomas VI An Island that has action!
Magen's Bay One of the ten best beaches in the world. National Geographic
Coki Beach Why Go?
Sapphire Beach and Marina A good value on St Thomas VI
Antilles@Sapphire Beach, St Thomas VI
The Ritz Carlton. ST Thomas Fine luxury
St Croix A visit July '06
The BATHS of the British Virgin IslandsLike nothing else you have ever seen!
Barcelo Resort, Dominican Republic
Cayman Island's Stingray City WOW!!
Allegro Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Hotel Mayaland, Mexico
Sandals, Negril, Jamaica
Renaissance Jamaica Grand, Ocho Rios
Jamaica, Jamaica me laugh, Jamaica me cry
10 Reason's To Visit Mexico
Fodor's '07 Guide to The US and British Virgin Islands
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Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug