US Virgin Islands Travel Tips

US Virgin Islands Travel Tips 2014-10-16T11:09:54+00:00

The US Virgin Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. An unincorporated organized territory of the United States, the US Virgin Islands consist of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island. The US Virgin Islands are known primarily for tourism, white sandy beaches, green mountains, and a warm climate year-round. I’ve personally been to Saint Thomas and Saint Croix, where most of the population lives. Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas is the capital of the US Virgin Islands and known for its Danish colonial architecture and quaint steep streets. Christiansted, Saint Croix is on the biggest island in the US Virgin Islands and is also one of the most deserted (scuba diving remains king here). Most Americans will come by cruise ships which dock at Charlotte Amalie or Christiansted. High-end shopping is very popular near the docks of the cruise ships as US Virgin Islands have duty-free tax. The islands are tiny in scale and going to a variety of beaches throughout your stay can be easily accomplished. Visit the US Virgin islands for a low-key weekend on blue waters and sandy beaches with relatively no crowds.

(click on a topic to skip to that section)

Noteworthy Places
Getting to/around US Virgin Islands
Breakdown of Costs
US Virgin Islander People
US Virgin Islander Language
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Random Advice

Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To

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St. Thomas – Majority of people will visit Charlotte Amalie, the capital nestled between mountains overlooking blue water. St. Thomas is well-traveled with frequent cruise ships docking in the harbor and has increasingly become one of the top tourist destinations in the Caribbean. If coming by a cruise ship, you have shopping right beside the docks. St. Thomas is duty-free and is known to be the “Duty-free Capital of the World.” You will see all major jewelry brands and the typical Caribbean souvenirs. Rum is also very popular here. Hop in a taxi and they will take you to beaches or other outdoor activities. I recommend Coki Beach if you’re just looking for a day at the beach. There is also zip-lining, jet-skiing, boat sailing, and other activities.

St. Croix – This is actually the biggest island in the US Virgin Island chain but one of the least visited. Christiansted is tiny in comparison to Charlotte Amalie and, as a whole, feels kind of empty. Like the other islands of the US Virgin Islands, St. Croix is famous for its beaches and rum. Scuba diving is also well recommended here. Visit Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted, the best-preserved old Danish fort in the VI. Some other options would be horse riding on the beach, golfing, ecological preserves, old Danish customs house or Point Udall; aka the easternmost point that US has a hold on.

Getting to/around US Virgin Islands

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By Plane – There are many flights from San Juan, Puerto Rico, but if you would like to fly from North America you could fly from the following… Direct flights into St. Thomas can be found from Chicago, Washington, and Newark on United Airlines; Miami, Boston, and New York on American Airlines; Atlanta and Detroit on Delta Airlines; Charlotte, Philadelphia, and New York on US Airways, and Ft. Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines. Direct flights into St. Croix can be found from Miami on American Airlines; Atlanta on Delta Air Lines; and Charlotte on US Airways. St. Croix can also be easily reached from St. Thomas by flying Cape Air or also by Seaborne Airlines (which flies seaplanes between Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and Christiansted, St. Croix).

By Cruise – One of the most popular ways to get to the US Virgin Islands is by a cruise. Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Disney cruise lines are the most popular cruise lines. Surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, the busiest time to go on a cruise is during the winter months: November, December, January, and February. Cruises aren’t as active in the summer months and the islands are not as busy.

Getting around any of the Virgin Islands is fairly easy. All of the islands have bus service and/or a regulated taxi service. Taxis, rental cars, and scooters are available near docks, airports, and the city centers. Cars are easy to rent and cost around the same price as in the US, but keep in mind that the islands are very mountainous. Take caution when traveling up mountains and around corners. Hairpins can be crazy. It’s also worth noting that cars drive on the left hand side instead of the right and most cars in the Virgin Islands are structured like American-made cars, adding to the confusion.

Buses are also common in the Virgin Islands. From the airport on St. Thomas one can get to the city of Charlotte Amalie or around the island. There are also bus services on the island of St. Croix. Taxis are also common to and from the airport and if you want a one-way ride to a beach.

Traveling by boats is another option. One can charter a boat to the British Virgin Islands or take a ferry to some of the lesser islands around the US Virgin Islands.

Breakdown of Costs

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Hotels – US Virgin Islands sit at the higher end in the Caribbean for hotel prices. You can find decent hotel prices from the 1oo dollar range to as high as 300 dollars. St. Thomas is the top tourist destination in the US Virgin Islands. You will find a greater range of hotels and prices there. St. Croix is a little less traveled so it’s not as easy to find bargains. Other islands in the US Virgin Islands are harder to get to and thus more expensive. Much of the brand names found in the US are also found in the US Virgin Islands. I came on a cruise ship and didn’t have to worry about hotel prices.

Food – Food is around the same price as in the United States or perhaps a tad more since much has to be imported. Beaches always have some sort of shack or restaurant where one can buy food or some snacks. This is a great option if you’re coming on a cruise and you’re spending your entire day on a beach. If you’re spending more days on the islands than going to the grocery store and making your own food is a good option. It helps to save money and in all likelihood it’s probably healthier for you. The major cities of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, Cruz Bay, and Frederiksted have a good choice of local and fresh Virgin Island foods (a lot of dishes with seafood). American food is also popular.

Other Activities – About the cheapest thing you can do is stay at a beach and lounge all day if you’re coming to the islands on a cruise. Shopping is very popular in St. Thomas  and St. Croix. Specifically on St. Croix, there are a lot of jewelers and artists that live on the island. When cruise ships come in, merchants usually line up just outside the docks and present their jewelry. I actually ended up buying a necklace made out of silver and gold from an American jeweler that resides on the island. It is popular to rent a car and drive around the different islands. If you have the money, you could also charter a boat and take a tour of the many smaller islands that are harder to get to. All of the islands have some sort of beach and all are great options. Some have more amenities than others so it depends on what type of seclusion you would like to have. Most of the islands have the option to do some 4 wheeling, horseback riding, para-sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, rum tasting, bars, night clubs, jet-skiing, etc…

US Virgin Islander People

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In almost all aspects, the people who live on the US Virgin Islands have a strong tie with American culture and local Caribbean culture. You will see a mix of Caribbean and American  influences in clothing, food, and beliefs. Many of the people who live there now came from the United States for a warmer climate and a more relaxing atmosphere. But much of the island also has an ancestry that dates back to European and African roots. Music is influenced by Caribbean music such as reggae, steel pan, calypso and soca as well as American music. Most of the island is religious like the rest of the Caribbean. Also US Virgin Islanders commonly tell superstitions and stories to their kids.

US Virgin Islander Language

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The official language of the US Virgin Islands is English. There is a slight accent compared to North American English. They tend to pronounce the last part of a word heavily more than the first part. It also wouldn’t be uncommon to hear local Creole or Patois or even Spanish.

Definitely Do’s and Don’ts

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Do visit beaches Coki or Lindquist beach on St. Thomas. One of the highest-rated beaches on the island of St. Thomas.

Don’t worry about duty tax on the islands.

Do pack your own water if you intend to be in a secluded area. Water is not always accessible or cheap.

Don’t feel the need to travel to islands if you don’t have the extra spending money. Most of the major islands still have plenty of secluded beaches.

Do have some local seafood. Local fishermen in St. Croix catch their seafood and serve it that day.

Don’t come during the hurricane season. Or if you do, be wary that the US Virgin Islands are some of the most hit islands in the Caribbean by hurricanes. Plan accordingly and know that there is always a risk!

Do explore the islands. Roads are better on some islands than others and if you want to go to harder-to-reach places you might have get a 4 wheeler. All of the islands have little mountains that contain some sort of rain forests as well as secluded parts.

From Splurging to Saving

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Although the US Virgin Islands have no duty tax it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best deal. Most of the cheap souvenirs include the typical Caribbean t-shirts and other trinkets. This is probably best to be avoided unless you want something cheap and little to remind you of your travels to the islands. If you happen to get to St. Croix then you should definitely check out the local artists and their crafts. These are usually authentic and handmade. I bought a necklace from Sun Lyon in Christiansted on the island of St. Croix. The best shopping probably belongs to the island of St. Thomas in Charlotte Amalie but much of this is high-end shopping. Other activities are pretty reasonable and are comparable to prices that you  would pay in the United States, though this is still  more expensive that some other Caribbean countries. Food is relatively well priced and you can find restaurants for 5 – 15 dollars a meal or find more expensive ones. Hotel prices are reasonable but there are chances to splurge on a nicer hotel. If you’re coming on a cruise you could simply pay for taxi rides to get to and from beaches and return to your ship to eat.

Good for Gay Lifestyle?

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The US Virgin Islands are actually pretty tolerant towards homosexuals. It would be near the top of my list for gay travel and for gays to be comfortably out while in the Caribbean. Specifically, St. Croix has become one of the more popular islands for gays to travel to. Although people are religious, most people wouldn’t take a second glance if two guys or two girls were holding hands. The US Virgin Islands have some bars and clubs but nothing extensive. There are no bars or clubs  dedicated towards gays but that doesn’t mean you can’t mix in at the other clubs on the islands. If you’re looking to live or travel you can still have enough fun and seclusion and be openly gay in the US Virgin Islands.

Random Advice

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Hurricanes are possible from June to November.

Drink plenty of water… it can be hot.

Peace and seclusion are most likely found on the island of St. Croix.

US dollars are used as currency.

Like many Caribbean islands rum is very popular.

 

 

 

images by: PhotosEverywhere, ShawnVoyage