We've spent the last several weeks highlighting various aspects of the great experience that is travel to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). This has been a fun experience for us not just thanks to all there is to take in there, but also because of our departure from the single post approach (see Nashville) in favor of several posts each discussing a different element of travel to a great place. Those in-depths are listed below the map (click the link in the heading for the complete article), but first we've a few general notes to cover...
St. Thomas is an absolutely beautiful place. They're not doing a booming business in wine (understatement), but the rum is tasty, the people friendly, the weather delightful, and the scenery absolutely gorgeous. Unless you've a specific reason to go to Hawaii, Americans generally living east of the Rocky Mountains should consider the Caribbean territories (that would be the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico) their primary warm weather island vacation spots. They're cheaper and much quicker to get to than Hawaii. Our tickets cost about $400 each, and it was seven hours from our living room at home to our hotel room on the island.
As a United States territory, the USVIs is undoubtedly American, yet a little different. I recommend this video for a quick cheeky discussion of the legal implications there, but more anecdotally we'd say this: St. Thomas feels about as different from the rest of the United States as one region feels from any other region (think New England and Appalachia, Southern California and the Deep South, etc). Dollars are good, English is spoken... but visitors are definitely reminded of what a big country the United States is. All that said, owing to the remote island nature of the place, all (including American citizens) must show a passport when flying off the island. There's considerable confusion about this on various websites, but the bottom line is that you should not be going here without a passport to help you leave. Also, you absolutely must have a passport if you're taking the quick ferry ride over to any of the very nearby British Virgin Islands.
American Airlines flies this particular route, competing with jetBlue for market dominance between the East Coast and Caribbean (much as they compete for primacy up and down the coast). Face value of our round-trip flights was $424 apiece, and we've safely seen these in the $300 - $600 range depending on departure city and time of year. Of course, we recommend using points and miles to avoid ever having to spend actual money on airfare!
As we compare the Marriott Frenchman's Reef and the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, keep in mind that we're not steering you in one direction or another here. We'd encourage you to read and pick the one that best suits your personality and travel tastes! Marriott takes the title on room quality, food, and location. Bolongo Bay claims the better vibe, staff, drinks, intangibles, and the amazing bonus category. Together they score a push on price and amenities.
Situated in the central harbor of St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie is the island chain's largest city and capitol of the United States Virgin Islands territory. The city limits themselves are home to about 18,000 people of the total 52,000 (give or take) on the island, itself home to 100,000+ residents of the entire territory (comprised primarily of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix along with a number of much smaller islands). The nearby resorts could make for an all-inclusive vacation in and of themselves, but we're big believers that those who confine themselves to a resort miss the best food and most interesting experiences.
It behooves you to make a clear plan before you make the passage, as in-network cell service on one island does not beget in-network service on the other. We've covered Charlotte Amalie in a separate post, so note here that Road Town is much smaller, and diversions are much less obvious. The town is organized around a primary main street with a roundabout adorned in Union Jacks at the north end. The Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum recommended by the tourist agent at the pier is not worth the walk. Instead, we recommend day trippers immediately hire a taxi to the rum distillery on the opposite side of the island. The length of our stay didn't permit us time for this, so we'd love to know how it worked out for others. Those staying overnight will obviously want to beeline for their hotel to drop bags before setting out for an adventure (to the rum distillery?).
The Caribbean is the world's rum capital, so travelers to many of its islands are destined for days filled with rum punches, daiquiris, and piña coladas. Because it doesn't take much effort to stumble your way into a rum cocktail there, we've set out to find the best sangrias to write home about from the Virgin Islands. We begin with a word to the wise: don't walk into a bar expecting to find sangria. Wine isn't a hot commodity down here, and no matter where you get it, it's probably going to have a splash of rum thrown in for good measure, making for a distinctly island take on this classically refreshing Spanish favorite.