I don’t really do trip reports, since I don’t travel or stay at the most luxurious places, but my Twitter followers requested a report (one request), so I’ll give it to you all. The main attractions for me are beaches, drinks and the food, so I usually look for cheapest options for travel and hotels. I don’t spend much time in hotel rooms, so as long as the room is clean, decent and has a nice bed, I’m happy. I went to US Virgin Islands for 8 days, a destination that’s not mentioned much in the travel hacking world. Probably because there’s not many hacking options as far as I know. I visited (stayed in) St Thomas, where the airport is located, St John and Water Island. That’s three out of the main four USVI islands. I didn’t visit the largest of the islands, St. Croix. Nor did I cross over to BVI because my passport was expired.
I don’t have any special tricks to get you to USVI so just read this as a report of my experience and to hopefully get a feel of was USVI is like. My first mistake was to book very late, maybe about 12 days before take off. I was a little short on AA miles so I used 40K Avios to book two round trip flights from JFK to STT. It was two seats in Economy and when I booked, there was only about 6 middle seats left. More availability showed up when I checked in, within 24 hours before departure, so I was able to get a window and a middle seat next to each other. Still in Economy. Same thing for return flight.
There was supposed to be complimentary Wi-Fi on-board but it was announced prior to take off that it wasn’t working. I probably should complain about that.
Food choices were pretzels or wafers, and there was water, sodas and juices available as well. I went for a fine diet coke on the rocks.
I looked at a few options using points but I chose to pay cash on Expedia. I had almost $200 worth in points and a promo code which made out of pocket expenses about $90 a night. I stayed at BlueBeard Castle. The room had a small kitchen with stove top, microwave, fridge, toaster. Ok bathroom. Small living room area with couch, coffee table and round dining tables with 4 chairs. Nice bed, and a flat screen TV. Room was clean and the small kitchen came in handy for breakfast and lunch sometime.
The hotel is on top of a hill, so it had great views of the marina where the cruise ships stop. It had three restaurants (this one was the best out of them, but a bit pricey) as well and nice pool with a poolside bar. Not very crowded during the day, but more people came in during the evening for the restaurants.
Getting Around Island/s
There’s a lot of options to get you to places within the island or between islands. I rented a car on the second day since I’m used to driving everywhere, but you could very easily get around with the local transportation that cost from $2 and up depending on distance and destination. They had plenty of these safari buses everywhere you went.
You can certainly walk around the downtown area in Charlotte Amalie, and even all they way to the airport if you love walking (maybe 25-30 min walk). But some roads are very steep, narrow and not very walking friendly.
If you drive, make sure to stay on the left side of the road. That took a few minutes to get used to, especially on turns. You can also make a left turn on red. They also like to honk a lot, but the locals are not really aggressive drivers. Probably because the longest drive possible, takes 30 minutes. The rental car actually had a sticker on the windshield “Drive on the left side. Honk frequently”. Some roads are very steep and not in the best shape.
I rented from Hertz. I booked a compact car but from what I saw on the lot, all rental companies carry mostly SUVs. I was upgraded for free to this Hyunday Tuscon. Gas was about $2.80 a gallon, and I paid full price for it at a Puma gas station, no fuel points. Parking was not an issue, but Hertz (and probably other major companies as well) didn’t allow their cars on ferries to other islands. There was local rental car companies in St John that would only rent out Jeeps, but the price was about double of what I paid for a Compact at Hertz.
Getting to other islands from St Thomas was decently priced as well. You could take a ferry to Cruz Bay (St John) from Red Hook for $7 one way. It was supposed to be a 20 minute ride but it was actually about 10 minutes. If you’re going to St Thomas on a cruise ship, you can take the ferry boat from Charlotte Amalie as well, where the ships dock, but it costs $13 one way and it’s about a 35 minute ride. There’s ferries hourly.
Going to Water Island costs $5 one way. You take a small boat at Crown Bay Marina in St Thomas. There’s ferries almost hourly and the ride is 10 minutes or less. Great small island with about 200 inhabitants but no stores at all. There’s bars though and you can just take a 5 minute walk to Honeymoon Beach. People might offer you rides on their golf carts as well.
This is the main attraction in USVI. There’s other places to visit as well but since the islands are small, most tourist attractions could be seen within a day, leaving plenty of time for the beaches. I tried to visit as many as possible, but in my opinion, Trunk Bay beach in St. John was the best out of them. Amazing clear waters and fine white sand with lots of palm trees along the shore that made umbrellas unnecessary (they actually didn’t have umbrellas for rent there).
All the beaches in the Virgin Islands are public. You can even go to beaches that are part of other hotels, although you can’t use their chairs, umbrellas etc.. Some beaches are part of national parks, so you have to pay an entrance fee of $5. Most of the beaches offered watersport activities, including snorkeling, windsurfing and kayaking.
Here’s some pictures.
Drinks & Food
Best thing about USVI is that you have bars at almost every beach and I love sipping drinks by the water. As you can imagine you could get all kinds of tropical cocktails. They had their local rum bran Cruzan everywhere, which came in lots of flavors. Painkiller and Bushwacker were two of their most famous mixed drinks.
Beer choices in most places were usually the worst American beers and their local beers. Virgin Islands beers from St John Brewers were everywhere and they had some great choices. It was $10 for a six-pack at the supermarket or about $5 in bars and restaurants. I also tried two of the Frenchtown Brewery beers that were made in St. Thomas. This was a nano-brewery in bohemian fishing village of Frenchtown in the island of St Thomas and I only saw it on the menu at a bar in Frenchtown (waitress said they make it upstairs).
Restaurants in St. Thomas were mainly in Charlotte Amalie where I was staying, in Red Hook and some in Frenchtown. Red Hook was the night spot with lots of bars and restaurants that were open late, some till 4am. Prices were about the same as in New York, but some higher end restaurants get pretty expensive. There’s no tax though.
Fresh Bistro was probably the best out of the ones I tried out. It was right by the water at the Marina and the food and service was great. Glady’s Cafe was also a great spot for breakfast and lunch. If you’re visiting Water Island, definitely stop by Dinghy’s Beach Bar & Grill at the end of Honeymoon Beach. Good bar food and drinks by the water, plus you can use their beach chairs and wifi for free.
Mountain Top was the highest point of St. Thomas. It has stunning panoramic views of Magens Bay, St. John and the British Virgin Islands from its observation deck. It had a big souvenir shop and its world famous banana daiquiri, which was pretty good.
“99 Steps”, which were built by the Danes in the mid-1700s. I counted 102, so they should probably change that name.
Fort Christian Museum and Blackbeard’s Castle built in 1600s and Drake’s Seat a small rest area with great views, also in St Thomas.
Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins in St John were also interesting.
If you’re looking for souveneers, rum, cigarettes etc, then your best bet is Havensight Mall in St Thomas, with lost of small shops in one shopping area.
If you’re in MSing mood you might want to try Kmart in St Thomas. I didn’t have any VGCs with me so I don’t have any data points for you.
- Very few places accepted Discover cards
- Drinking Age is 18 but you need to be 21 to bring back alcohol
- You can only bring back 5 bottles of alcoholic beverages per passenger, 6 if one is made in the USVI
- Very cheap cigarettes, about $30 for 10 packs (I don’t smoke)
That’s all I remember for now. I’ll add more to it if anything interesting comes to mind and you’re welcome to chime in as well in the comments below. If any of the businesses mentioned want to offer me any discounts, please contact me by email 🙂