It was never a journey that we set out to make but one that we did and completed anyways. A visit to each US Virgin Island. The chain includes St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix and for those keeping count, a fourth inhabited island named Water Island. If you have never visited the US Virgin Islands, you have truly missed out on what could be the jewels of the United States. Yes, remember that! You do not need a passport here! One thing the United States has is an incredible variance of beachfront to admire, but very little compares to the property that surrounds the VI. With crystal clear water at every turn and miles of unpopulated sand, it's hard to find a true comparison on the mainland in terms of landscape and scenery. And for those who have made it their dream to get to the Caribbean someday, the USVI will certainly quench that thirst and make it a reality.
Many venture this direction and a majority of the time it happens through cruises that stop by the port of Charlotte Amelie. This usually becomes the first taste for many folks on what to expect from the VI but it usually doesn't end up being the last. With prices pretty inexpensive to get here, the biggest and most difficult decision for many is which island to choose. Below is an attempt to explain the different islands from our family's perspective and the key highlights. What I can tell you on the front end is that no matter which island you choose, it will not be the wrong one.
Magens Bay, St. Thomas
Why not start with the obvious? This is the island that literally puts the USVI on the map. With the capital of Charlotte Amelie as the welcome mat, you soon realize why this port has the highest cruise traffic in the world. Privacy is attainable on this island, but it takes a bit more work to find it. With a daily traffic jam of thousands of cruise ship passengers cramming the slender streets, it can be a daunting task to find your relaxation point. But If you wait until about 5:00 on any given day, you will find it! A trip to the Magen's Bay tops many a list and the cruise traffic is quite heavy there but as the sun starts to set, you may soon find yourself as one of the last beachcombers. St. Thomas is also well known for its duty free shops and if that's your game to rack up on some souvenirs or more eccentric goods as jewelry and such, you will not go home unhappy. The deals are plentiful and the rum flows easily from place to place. The scene on St Thomas is more of what you would expect from a cruise port. With beautiful beaches and hawking goods around every corner, it may be difficult to find the true vibe of this populous island but you will surely feel the essence of the caribbean port itself. Traffic can be a bit snarled and the terrain if you are driving can be quite suspenseful, but as long as you do what the locals say, " Drive right, Stay left" you'll do just fine. Markers on the road will get you where you need to be, but always be prepared for a bit of adventure because the chances are good you may get lost. But look at it this way, with water bordering every edge, how lost could you truly be and don't be surprised if you find the best beaches this way...and quite honestly a beach all to yourself. If the roads are a little scary for you there are a multitude of taxis that can transport you all over the island, but you better be aware that island time invades all modes of life here. Two things you can be sure of around here with regards to time. The sun will come up and it will go down. All other times in between are subject to interpretation.
Trunk Bay, St. John
Quite possibly the most beautiful of the four islands but it depends on who you ask. With 80% of the island roped off as a National Park, the beauty is intense and not hard to find. Once you leave the confines of Cruz Bay and head down the road a bit, the postcard views of what every island traveler hopes to see in their life becomes a reality. Countless beaches dot the coast with each one more beautiful than the first until you reach the overlook of Trunk Bay. The first time you see this view will be one that you carry for the rest of your life and the view from below is just as magnificent as the one from above. Have your snorkeling gear ready as this is the spot where you can follow one of the only underwater snorkeling trails in the National Park Service. But, believe me it isn't the best one. More on that later. St. John, much like St Thomas has a few treacherous roads but with the help of a jeep ( preferable in some spots) you can get from one end of the island to the other in a mere 30-40 minutes as you gaze in awe. A completely different vibe than what you experience in St Thomas, St John has a more American feel to it. A steady stream of college students find their way here as well as a host of wannabe deadheads still holding onto the Jerry dream. Hey, I've done the Dead thing so I can say that with no recourse. Many people will also say that it is safer than St. Thomas, but I would guess that's more due to the size and limited population than the island itself. Take an adventure and head past Coral Bay to the world renowned Vie's jerk chicken stand. One word of caution though. She's not always open and after two tries with no luck, we're still waiting for our first taste! It's a pretty laid back vibe in St John if that is what you're looking for and the ferry to get there, passenger or car isn't that much to spend for what you get in return. In fact, the ride itself is part of the fun, as long as the rocking boat doesn't get you a bit seasick, a certain family member experienced this. Sometimes, that last rum punch stings, especially when it's coming back up. All in all, St. John is a true paradise and it strikes you as odd when you realize it's part of the US. What a jewel!
Honeymoon Beach, Water Island
The smallest of the USVI chain, Water Island only has about 200 residents, there are only a few cars there and the ones that are there are probably the only ones allowed. This is golf cart island living here. Looking for slow? You found it. Only a few miles from the hustle and bustle of. Charlotte Amelie but feels a hundred miles away. This is island time at its finest. We found ourselves on the silky sands of Honeymoon Beach, with no one around. No one. For that reason, Water Island has found a place in my heart as the favorite of all the islands. If you've had enough of reality, step onto this beach for just a few moments. No news, no work, no problem. With a food shack set up on one end and a bar on the other, how could you go wrong? Now keep in mind they open and close when they please, and when they do? They please! Just be careful not to miss your ferry back to the mainland as you could be stuck overnight and have to do it all over again. Oh...the humanity!
Sandy Point, St. Croix
Maybe the most mysterious of all of the USVI and for no real reason other than the fact that it is a cool 40 miles from the others. What does this mean? We'll it means that you have twice the area of St Thomas with only a third of the people. Plus, cruise ships seem to bypass this paradise for the more confined waters St Thomas. Silly captains! But what you miss in visitors, you gain in island, and there is a lot of it. This is the island where you can find your true inner peace. With miles of untouched beaches and hidden trails to isolated sands, the island can literally be yours. A whole day could pass before you see another human walk by. For some, maybe this isn't what you think of when you look for that trip to the Caribbean, but you soon will. The only thing better than standing on a beach with the views that St Croix delivers is standing on them by yourself. The best picture to ever be taken is in your own head. Photos simply can't do justice to the magnificence here. St Croix has a few other things going for it. They have a vibe to them and a culture. That's something that, even though they won't admit it, the other islands lack. The Crucians are a proud population and they are more than happy to identify themselves as Crucians. It's a way of life and a proud tradition. St Croix also has more accessibility than the others as the roads are mainly flat and even have a few highways where you can press the gas to 55 or more. Granted it's only for about a mile at a time, but hey, it's the islands for God's sake! And then the payoff, unlike the other islands, you don't have that down-island view like you get in the others when you're staring down the BVIs. But what you do have is Buck Island and what you get with Buck Island is the other underwater snorkel trail. And if you thought Trunk Bay had it going on, prepared to be blown away! Sure there are better reefs in the world and Australia and Belize can rival most, but this the US! What did you expect? I guarantee you didn't expect this. Bring your underwater camera along for the trip as you will need it. St Croix isn't for the people looking for a nightlife or crazy resort parties, although there are a few. St Croix is for those who want to know what the other Virgin Islands once were and to get a taste of the old Caribbean life. Believe me, it tastes good. Leaving this coral island, we admitted as much. This is the place to be. It's under the radar and we, as well as the Crucians we met, like it this way.
All in all, there is something for everyone in the USVI except stress. Carve out a piece of your own history and make some memories in the Virgin Islands. It's a world away but you can access it without a passport. Soon you will know what it's like to be an islander, even for just a week. The United States Virgin Islands, our islands, our home. At least we're working on that part of it.
Stay tuned to my blog as I will be giving a snapshot of the many beaches of the USVI. There are many and they are incredible in their own ways!