The U.S. Virgin Islands offer something for everyone
Let’s get this out of the way: there is no bad choice. When it comes to the U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and the lesser-known Water Island—you can’t go wrong. It’s more about playing a bit of a dating game. What island satisfies your interests best?
Now is a good time to visit the USVI. As American territories, the U.S. Virgin Islands fall under American jurisdiction, which means you don’t need a passport, an obvious plus for ease of travel in these uncertain times. Of course, you want to be aware of whatever protocols may be in place and check their travel guidelines.
But first things first. How to choose where you want to spend your vacation? Here’s some intel that can help you make up your mind.
St. Thomas is the spot for the party people, the sophisticated, the cosmopolitan crowd. As home to Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the USVI, St. Thomas offers a mix of restaurants, duty-free shopping, and nightlife. There are new spots like Bluebeards, an open-air restaurant with a deck that has awe-inspiring views of Long Bay’s yacht harbor, and Twistt 340, a Caribbean cuisine restaurant in Yacht Haven Grande. Its specialty is the “twist” it puts on tradition, such as honey-drizzled johnny cakes and pate trios. Red Hook is a hot spot, with a new fine dining restaurant called 3 Psalms VI that overlooks the Marina at American Yacht Harbor. Feast on seafood and prime meats and enjoy craft cocktails.
St. Thomas also has a serene side. The mountainous island has miles of white sand beaches, green rolling hills and flora. Snorkeling at Coki Beach is popular. Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas offers dolphin and sea lion experiences as well as SNUBA (a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving), SeaTREK (an underwater guided walk on the ocean’s floor) as well as other fun, educational activities. History buffs will want to check out Fort Christian and Blackbeard’s Castle.
The options of where to stay include the Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham and Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant with its views of Charlotte Amalie and the harbor. Want to take things up another notch? Consider the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. Fabulous views of Great Bay, locally sourced cuisine, a luxury catamaran for sunset cruises, snorkeling tours and private events, as well as a renovated Club Lounge with updated culinary offerings and marine-inspired décor are just part of the attraction. Set sail on one of the property’s three luxury sailing catamarans. The Lady Lynsey II is an exquisite 60-ft vessel that offers island-hopping excursions, snorkeling tours, champagne sunset sails.
Get your cultural fix
St. Croix is the largest of the islands and perfect for people looking for a bit of local culture on their vacation. The past is present in the architecture, landmarks and national parks, as well as in the music, traditions and cuisine of the local Crucians. For sure you’ll want to take a food tour, shop for handcrafted goods and jewelry made by St. Croix’s artists.
History lovers won’t want to miss Fort Frederik and Fort Christiansvaern. Interested in underwater life? Buck Island Reef National Monument offers tropical dry and manchineel beach forests, beaches, and rocky shores. The area includes endangered and threatened species such as hawksbill and loggerhead sea turtles. Snorkel the coral grottoes, scuba dive, bird watch or have a picnic. For a uniquely St. Croix water experience, kayak the bioluminescent bay at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.
Want an experience that’s more airborne? Zip through the rainforest, including Carambola Valley, at Carambola Zipline. The golfer in your crew won’t want to miss the Carambola Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. championship golf course. For brunch and breakfast the go-to spot is Caroline’s in the historic King Christian Hotel which overlooks Christiansted. Foodies won’t want to miss Salt Great Pond, with its epic views and creative cuisine, including shrimp and ham mac n’ cheese made with elbow pasta and gruyere mornay, and featuring an herb, bacon and panko crust.
Looking for a private adults-only place to stay? The Fred, a 23-room, boutique beach resort has a spa, pool and more. For additional luxury, consider the 340-acre Buccaneer Hotel, home to an 18-hole golf course, eight tennis courts, three beaches, two pools, water sports center, full-service spa, fitness center, three restaurants, shopping arcade and more.
Find your happy place in nature
St. John may be smaller than St. Croix and St. Thomas, but it delivers big time for active nature lovers. Two-thirds of the island is a U.S. protected national park with nearly 10,000 acres of hilly green land and an underwater reserve. Take your pick of fun, from beaches, hiking trails and snorkeling to exploring the ruins of the Annaberg Plantation and the Reef Bay Trail or a hiking trail with sugar mill ruins and petroglyphs that go back to the Taino Indians. If you don’t go home bragging about your time in Trunk Bay with its white coral sand, clear waters, and snorkeling trail, you’ll lose all cred as a savvy traveler. Also popular are the Catherineberg Ruins and the Cinnamon Bay Nature Loop Trail. Mountain biking and horseback riding are other outdoor activities.
St. John may have a more laid back, hipster vibe than the other islands but that doesn’t mean it’s missing great food. Cruz Bay, the epicenter of St. John, is home to a slew of restaurants. The Longboard is a favorite with its fresh, local ingredients, light, healthy bites, creative cocktails and yes, must-have drink called the Painkiller. The name says it all. Also worth a visit is Lime Out, the island’s famous floating taco bar. Drifter’s Tiki Bar offers live entertainment, curry chicken and mac and cheese, while Shambles is a go-to for specialty cocktails, sandwiches, pizzas and burgers.
St. John’s has some unique accommodations as well. Estate Lindholm, originally settled in the 1720s by Dutch planters, is a tropical inn among restored Danish ruins adjacent to the Virgin Islands National Park. If you’re thinking high-end, Gallows Point Resort is on a five-acre tropical peninsula, with panoramic views of the island from a private oceanfront locale.
Leave the crowds behind
Chances are you didn’t even know there was a fourth Virgin Island. Water Island is a small residential island, just 491 acres with fewer than 200 residents. If you’re looking for an uncrowded, relaxed getaway, this one’s for you.
A half-mile off the coast of St. Thomas, Water Island is accessible by a seven-minute ferry ride. Spend time on the beach, kayak, fish, boat, hike around the island and explore the remains of military fortifications. There are movie nights on the beach. For lunch head to Dinghy’s Beach Bar & Grill or Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill, for fish, burgers, sandwiches and cocktails.
Don’t look for mega resorts here. Instead think private villas, cottages or apartments.