Why Go To U.S. Virgin Islands
If you’re seeking palm-fringed festivities without needing a passport, look no further than the U.S. Virgin Islands. December is the start of the dry season in this Caribbean island chain, and average temperatures in the 70s and 80s are perfect for lounging on beautiful white sand beaches like Magens Bay or snorkeling in Virgin Islands National Park. Plus, you’ll get a taste of the island’s vibrant culture during the Crucian Christmas Festival, which takes place on St. Croix during most of December. Celebrate with parades and music competitions, or take in the various art fairs held throughout this event.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are “America’s Caribbean Paradise” – the place to see moko jumbies (stilt walkers) dance at a Carnival parade, hear the lilting patois of a Creole dialect, or smell the spices in a saltfish pate (all without losing cell phone reception). You can visit either St. Thomas, St. John, or St. Croix, or better yet, spend a little time on all three islands. That way you’ll get plenty of pampering, undisturbed nature, and colonial history jammed into one vacation.
Each island offers something different. Called “Rock City” for its hilly, craggy horizon, St. Thomas is known for luxury – from the megayachts moored in the harbor to the high-end storefronts along Main Street. Located a short ferry ride east, St. John appeals to honeymooners and nature lovers, with more than 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland, along with pristine beaches. Way down south in the Caribbean Sea, St. Croix allows visitors to explore the island’s colonial heritage and the history of slavery at several different forts and plantations. Plus, it’s on this island that you’ll find the Cruzan Rum Distillery.
A visit to the islands now may look a little different than it did several years ago. Hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated the islands, leaving homes and hotels either uninhabitable or severely damaged. However, since 2017 the region has taken great strides in restoring itself and is happily welcoming visitors once again. So, if you’re in need of a beachy vacation, don’t hesitate to book your trip.
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands is April to June, when you can expect mild weather and very little rainfall. In the USVI’s peak season, from December to March, the temperature ranges from the mid-70s to high 80s with breezy evenings. July to October is the region’s hurricane season with average temps in the upper 80s.
Culture & Customs
Similar to the residents of other Caribbean islands, Virgin Islanders dress casually but conservatively. Wearing a bathing suit — or even sandals — anywhere besides the beach marks you as a tourist.
Since these islands are territories of the United States, their currency is the U.S. dollar. Overall, tipping etiquette is the same in the Virgin Islands as in other parts of the United States; 15 to 20% is considered the standard, but more is appreciated for exceptional service.
What to Eat
The U.S. Virgin Islands offer an assortment of restaurant options that range from white tablecloth establishments to affordable diners and fast-food joints. For a tasty meal on St. Thomas, head to restaurants in Frenchtown or Red Hook. On St. John, Cruz Bay is the place to be. There are also a handful of suitable options on St. Croix’s West End.
Most restaurants in those areas will give you the coddling tourist experience, but you might also find the opportunity to try a local dish. Look for menu options like pate (ground beef, chicken or salted cod wrapped and deep-fried in dough), johnnycake (deep-fried dough), fungi (corn meal) or peas and rice (kidney beans or lentils with brown rice) to eat like a Virgin Islander.
St. Thomas is a major commercial hub and a very busy cruise port, and therefore susceptible to tourist-targeted crime. Additionally, there is a presence of violent crime on this island, though you’ll see fewer violent crimes on St. Croix and St. John. Take a taxi if possible, and if you have a rental car, keep it locked. Limit your travels at night – particularly in Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted and Frederiksted – and don’t travel alone.
You should also safeguard your skin. The heat in the Caribbean can certainly be luxurious, but also scorching. Always remember to apply sunscreen before venturing out and reapply frequently if you’ll be outside all day. (Know, too, that the U.S. Virgin Islands has banned sunscreen that contains oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.) Use insect repellent in the evenings when the islands’ “no-see-ums” (tiny gnats) like to bite.
Getting Around U.S. Virgin Islands
The best way to get around any U.S. Virgin Island is in a car – either your own rental or a taxi. You can rent a car at or nearby one of the islands’ two airports: the Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) on St. Croix. Ferries from St. Thomas are the most efficient way of getting to St. John (which has no airport) or even the British Virgin Islands.
Taking a cruise is also a popular way to travel to the Virgin Islands – in fact, St. Thomas is one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean. Although its port is less busy, you can also take a cruise to St. Croix. Popular lines to visit both islands include Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Because the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United States, you won’t need a special driving permit; a valid U.S. driver’s license will suffice. Rental car agencies are located on each island, and car barges will allow you to transport your vehicle between islands. But driving in the U.S. Virgin Islands can be nerve-wracking. The roads are often narrow, winding, steep and bumpy. Ask to rent a car with four-wheel drive, remember to keep to the left and beware of the blind curves. Remember: Island mentality extends to the roads. Drivers often yield to other cars on the road and frequently use one or two quick honks to say “thank you” when drivers let them in (don’t forget to say “you’re welcome” with a quick honk in return).
Each individual island offers public transportation that’s affordable but not necessarily reliable. Vitran buses circulate on St. Thomas and St. John, connecting their respective tourist attractions. On St. Croix, buses run between Christiansted and Frederiksted approximately every 2 1/2 hours (no service on weekends) with stops at popular shopping centers and tourist sites. Bus fares range from 75 cents to $1 per person depending on the rider’s age.
Licensed V.I. taxis are labeled with a placard or license plate. You’ll see hordes of them in downtown Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas or by the docks in St. John and St. Croix, and they’re a great way to move around the islands. They’ll stop at all the major tourist sites. But beware: they aren’t metered, so negotiate your fare before accepting the ride. Most travelers pay somewhere between $8 and $40 per person for a round-trip taxi to and from the hotels to top sights on St. Thomas; between $12 and $54 per person for round-trip fares in St. John; and between $16 and $72 per person for a round-trip taxi around much of St. Croix.
Taking a ferry boat is an affordable way to travel among the U.S. Virgin Islands and to the British Virgin Islands for a daytrip. Boats frequently leave from the Red Hook dock in St. Thomas heading to Cruz Bay, St. John or Tortola, BVI, and there are usually charters that shuttle between St. Thomas and Virgin Gorda or Jost Van Dyke, BVI. If you’re looking to island hop within the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vitran operates ferries. Passenger ferries between St. Thomas and St. John cost $8.15 each way or $16.30 round trip per adult. Ferries from St. Thomas to St. Croix cost $50 each way. Luggage will have an additional fee depending on which ferry you take. Schedules for island hopping around the rest of the Caribbean will vary, so check with your provider before you book.
If you want to make your vacation extra memorable, splurge for a seaplane ride to travel between the islands. Silver Airways (which acquired regional provider Seaborne Airlines in 2018) is the primary operator and offers routes to other Caribbean destinations like Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. Schedules and prices vary, so you should check the airline’s official website to plan your trip.
Entry & Exit Requirements
Although a passport is not required to travel between the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands, you must bring a passport if you’re planning to visit the British Virgin Islands during your stay. Visit the U.S. State Department’s website for more information on entry and exit requirements.
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