Whether you are taking your family for some fun in the sun or looking for that perfect romantic getaway, there is something for everyone in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Caribbean paradise consists of three islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John – each with its own character and charm.
This year, the U.S. Virgin Islands celebrates its 90th anniversary as a United States’ territory. Purchased from Denmark for $25 million, these islands give mainlanders some great advantages. First, a passport is not required to visit there. All of the residents are also American citizens, so languages and laws are familiar.
We flew into St. Thomas and were whisked away via ferry to the island of St. John. Our first night in this tropical paradise was enjoyed at the Westin Hotel. We grabbed our bags and walked to the Westin front desk, which is located in the airport terminal. You can check your bags and check into your hotel room without leaving the terminal. The Westin has a private ferry to take you on a 50-minute ride over beautiful blue water to a pier at its hotel. The grounds were impeccably manicured and iguanas were running freely across the lawn. As it turns out, one of the highlights of the day is the 3 p.m. feeding of the iguanas. It is not unusual for 40 to 50 iguanas to show up for their mid-afternoon snack.
After a short rest, it was time to check out the pool. The Westin boasts the largest pool in all the Virgin Islands. We stopped by the bar to have one of their signature drinks, called a Pain Killer. The refreshing frozen cocktail was great to sip while listening to the soothing sound of the pool’s waterfall. Around the pool are rentable, private cabanas. Each cabana comes with a television and refrigerator and is a great place to get out of the sun while enjoying the sights and sounds of the pool.
Later, it was time to head into town. The preferred method of travel on the islands is by safari — open-air taxis made from pick-up trucks that seat 10 to12 people. The paint jobs are all unique and the drivers take great pride in their vehicles. No trip to St. John would be complete without stopping by Woody’s Seafood Saloon for a drink and a dose of fun. Another great spot is Paradiso. Chef Paul Trujillo prepares a wonderful rack of lamb; the menu changes with the current fresh offerings from local vendors.
Finally, it was back to the Westin to unwind at Chloe &Bernard’s, the hotel bar. It was there that I was surprised with the best chocolate martini I ever had. We asked our bartender why people come to St. John. She immediately replied, “You’re far enough away to feel like you’re on vacation, but close enough to feel like you’re home.”
After a couple of days in St. John, we took the ferry back to St. Thomas, which is like the New York City of the islands. There are two cruise terminals that support the many cruise ships. With travelers comes tourism and St. Thomas does not disappoint. There are hundreds of shops to satisfy every taste. We saw everything from handmade souvenirs costing less than $1 to $100,000 diamond rings.
One of the great attractions in St. Thomas is Coral World Ocean Park, which brings visitors up-close-and-personal to the beauty and magic of Caribbean marine life. We were able to touch a shark, hand-feed a stingray and watch newborn seahorses learn to swim. The highlight of the visit was crawling into a tank to swim with sea lions. This encounter was more than a swim; participants got to hold on to the sea lions and take a ride around the tank. The encounter ended with the sea lions jumping over our heads and outstretched arms.
The next day we decided to take a sea plane to St. Croix. A sea plane is the best way to travel between the islands. Since there are no security checks, you simply purchase your ticket at least 30 minutes before flight time and board the plane. It is fast and efficient. The engines purred as we skipped across the water, and soon we were off. The views of St. Thomas and the blue Caribbean water were spectacular from the low flying plane. One splash and we were down.
The first thing you notice about St. Croix is it’s a long way between everything. As we traveled to the hotel, we passed the famous “Beast,” the hill that challenges the most conditioned athletes in St. Croix’s Ironman Triathlon. We stayed at the Carambola Beach Resort, soon to be a Marriott Renaissance Resort. The open-air atmosphere of the hotel was wonderful.
On Friday nights the locals turn out for the Pirates’ Buffet, a celebration of Caribbean cooking and entertainment. Dancers on stilts called “mocko jumbies” wore beautiful costumes and gave high-energy performances to the sounds of steel drums and salsa beats.
We traveled across the island to the Divi Carina Bay, which offers a little something for everyone. The Divi is building a miniature golf course for the kids, the pool is inviting and they have a spa. Couples can enjoy side-by-side massages as they unwind from their hard day of relaxing. The Divi also operates the only casino in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Speaking of couples, the U.S. Virgin Islands is the place for weddings and honeymoons. Most hotels have wonderful pavilions on the grounds or the beach with beautiful settings. If you’re looking for that perfect honeymoon, you and your sweetie will love the serenity and romance that only a Caribbean beach can provide. But if the honeymoon is over and you already have kids, most hotels have special kids’ clubs with events and activities to keep your little ones enjoying their days while the adults can go out and find their own fun.
When it’s vacation time, remember the U.S. Virgin Islands. The weather is beautiful, everyone speaks English and no passports are required. For families or couples, it’s the place to be.