Escape to the USVI – St. Thomas & St. John

The palm trees swaying in the wind, the sand soft and powdery sand, the sun warming and tanning overhead.  I’m here in the hammock kicked back looking over the bay, feeling a little guilty that I feel so good, and don’t have a care in the world.  We have been in the U.S. Virgin Islands for about 3 weeks now and can’t get over the beautiful views and sunsets, but something is missing here.

This is a beautiful Caribbean set of islands and we thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing stay here, but if you are coming to experience some local culture, you are not coming to the right place.  The “locals” have not been here for hundreds of years and this month marks 100 years since the US purchased the islands, in other words these islands don’t know who they are, they don’t have a local flare, they kind of have no soul.  With that being said, there are still plenty of good places to eat and great resorts to stay at.

One of our first days on St. Thomas, we went to “explore” Charlette Amalie. We went through the little streets of vendors and shops, as you pass each store the owners are trying to pull you into their store to buy their goods. We checked out a lot of the stores, most of which are jewelry stores and souvenir shops so we didn’t hang here too long but it was fun to see it all.  We had a rental car (highly recommend) so we had the liberty to go around the island. It really is a beautiful lush and green island! We drove up to “Mountain Top”, the highest point on the island, which had the best views on the island. You can see Magen’s Bay, the USVI and BVI from there, it is definitely worth the drive up.

Some days we would just lounge by the pool and beach at our resort, just floating around not believing that we had left jobs and that this was really happening! Other days we would scout out other beaches that we would eventually compare to Trunk Bay (our absolute favorite). Our hardest decision each day was what beach to visit and where to eat, but I think we managed okay.

We went to St. John for a couple days and we loved it! The island is small but has some lovely inhabitants like wild donkeys and goats and fun things to do. Cruz Bay, the town right off the ferry dock is super cute with boutique shops and delicious restaurants. You can rent a car from St Thomas and take it to St. John on the car ferry (see more about this below) since it is cheaper to rent in St. Thomas than it is on St. John. Oh and our favorite beach is on St. John—Trunk Bay. St. John is a must visit when coming to the USVI.

With all the above being said, the US Virgin Islands are still a great place to vacation at and a great place to explore, relax, taste great food and soak up the tropical sun on the beach.  Below are our favorite places and recommendations if you plan to visit.

1. Where to stay:

If you are planning on staying on St. Thomas where you stay on the Island is VERY important.  Though Charolett Amalie is the “big town” on the Island, it is not where the fun is at.  Almost everything in Charolett Amalie shuts down around 4 or 5 pm because the the shops run based on when the cruise ships are in town.  A lot of the shops wont even open if there are no cruise ships in that day.

We recommend staying in the Red Hook area on St. Thomas.  

  • 1) This is where most of the nicer hotels are located
  • 2) Things stay open here late, cruise ship or not
  • 3) The ferry to St. John leaves from Red Hook.  You should definitely visit St. John if you get a chance on your trip
  • 4) We found the shops and people much friendlier here since they are not dealing with thousands of cruise ship visitors on a daily basis

We had the privilege of staying at Margaritaville for about three weeks and we really enjoyed it.  This is a timeshare property that we rented through Airbnb (we do not own a timeshare).

  • Pros about Margaritaville:
    • 2 great pools
    • Very friendly staff
    • Nice private beach
    • Rooms are well equipped with kitchenette and a free laundry facility on site
    • Great restaurant on the property (great lunch and dinner)
  • Cons about Margaritaville
    • They still have some construction going on
    • They do not have enough staff at this location and the service is a bit slow

2. What to do:

  • 1) Explore the island and visit the beaches!  This is a Caribbean island for crying out loud!  We visited about a dozen beaches during our stay on both St. Thomas and St. John, Click this link to see our TOP 5 BEACHES TO VISIT recommendation.
  • 2) Snorkel!  The waters around St. Thomas and St. John are teaming with life and fish that are eager to eat from your hands.  We had a blast doing this!  I highly recommend either bringing your own snorkle gear or buying a set on the island for $20 or less because this will save you a lot of money and not hold you back when you want to go see the fish.
  • 3) Go to St. John:  
    • This island is a whole other world in comparison to St. Thomas.  This island has a very cute little town with great restaurants right when you get off of the ferry and is super fun to explore if you rent a car.
    • Rent a car from Thrifty Car Rentals (not sponsored) on St. Thomas as they are the only company that will let you take your rental car over on the St. John ferry with no additional fee!  This will save you a lot of money because the car rentals on St. John are pricy.  AN ECONOMY CAR WORKS GREAT YOU DO NOT NEED A JEEP TO GET AROUND ST. JOHN.
    • We saw wild donkeys who will eat from your hand and let you pet them.  We saw them on the opposite side of the island from where the ferry’s land near the natural reserve.
  • 4) Extreme Activities:  They have all of the water acivities and land activities you could think of.
    • Zip-lining
    • Sailing, Fishing charters
    • Jet-ski Rentals, Fly Boarding
    • Scuba Diving
    • Parasailing
    • and many more…
  • 5) Go Shopping:  Make room in your suitcase for things to bring back!
    • There are a lot of jewelry shops and nice clothing stores here and everything is TAX FREE!  Be a savvy shopper and don’t be afraid to negotiate or even leave a negotiation to see pricing from another shop.  Simply let the sales person know you want to keep on looking and be firm or they will keep pushing you.
    • Most of the shops in Charlotte Amalia close around 4pm on cruise ship days and are not open at all if cruise ships are not in port, so plan accordingly.
    • Be wary of prices that are too good to be true as there are a lot of knock-offs here.  This includes clothing, handbags and jewelry too.

3. Where to eat:

There are a lot of great eating options on the Island, below are some of the restaurants we ate at and could recommend.  We don’t really recommend looking for “local” food as there really isn’t a distinct food culture on this island.  We tried lots of “local” places from inexpensive to expensive and really didn’t like any of them.

  • We Loved:
    • The Old Stone Farmhouse: ($$$)  This is a place to come for a nice romantic dinner.  We had 5 courses here and were delighted by every one.  They also have a complimentary valet car service to really top off the 5 star experience.
    • Havana Blue Restaurant: ($$$) Come here for the view and a delicious dinner.  though the portions here are a bit small the food was good and the sunset was incredible to watch.  Make reservations ahead of time for 6pm for the best results.
    • Off the Grid: ($) We loved the food here!  Great service and delicious food.  this is a very casual dining experience that is open-air (solid roof no walls) dining.  I recommend trying the Truffle Mac & Cheese Bacon Cheeseburger and the BBQ items.  The wraps were good too.
  • We Liked:
    • Buddha Sushi: ($$) the sushi was good and we loved the Big Buddah Roll which was filled with lobster and snapper and other fish.. it is a bit pricey though for sushi, but if you have a craving it will be satisfied here.
    • Tap and Still: ($)  This is a burger and wing joint.  Very informal bar setting but it is delicious and inexpensive.  The beef is never frozen and the potato are cut right before they are fried.  You can taste the difference.
    • Margaritaville Restaurant: ($$-$$$) Everything we ordered here was good.  We had great dinner here, the mahi and snapper were delicious.  Lunch options are good and hearty.

4. PRO TIPS:

  1. Book your rental car with Thrifty if you plan to go to St. John.  They are the only company that allowed you to take your rental on the ferry without an extra fee (not sponsored).
  2. Stay in Redhook: not as busy with merchants bothering you.  Also cleaner and more friendly.
  3. The car ferry only runs till 6pm. The walk on ferry runs till 11pm. (double check the times as they can randomly change)
  4. Check the cruise ship schedule in the weekly magazine.  The beaches are packed when the cruise ships are in town and it can be hard to find a good spot.

More Pictures From the Trip:

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