US Virgin Islands
By Linda McClain, CTA
Are you dreaming of a vacation to the Caribbean? Do you desperately need to set your schedule to island time before the end of the summer? Are your plans on hold because you still don’t have your passport? If you have US citizenship, head for St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands (USVI). Why? It’s America’s Caribbean and no passport required! (Bring proof of US citizenship with certified copy of birth certificate and drivers license Id.)
How do I get there?
Located about 1,600 miles from New York and 1,100 miles from Miami, the US Virgin Islands are just 60 miles from Puerto Rico. There are about 50 islands and cays that compromise the USVI, with three main islands of developed tourism.
Connecting air service from Albany can have you arriving in St. Thomas or St. Croix in time to watch the Caribbean sun melt into the sea. If non-stop flights are your preference, then choose JFK to St. Thomas as your destination. If it’s St. Croix you wish to visit, flights from Albany and JFK require a connection. Based on current availability and fares, it’s possible to save hundreds of dollars by flying from JFK to this popular Eastern Caribbean destination.
Want to stay in St. John? Then you have to fly into St. Thomas and then take a brief, but scenic, boat transfer over to the island.
Weather: The US Virgin Islands experience tropical weather temperatures year round. Positioned between the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, they are located in the Lesser Antilles. As part of the Leeward Islands, they are naturally sheltered from winds. Trade winds blow in from Portugal, keeping temperatures 70-90F.
Average year-round high temperatures: 85F-90F.
Average year-round low temperatures: 72F-78F.
Water temperature is about 83F, except in the winter when it drops to approximately 78F.
Hurricane season runs from June– November. The USVI experience heaviest rains in September and October. Weather is often affected by hurricane activity in the Caribbean.
History & culture
The Virgin Islands have been governed by seven different nations: Spain, England, Holland, France, Knights of Malta, Denmark and the United States.
Christopher Columbus discovered the territory in 1493. When he spotted St. Croix, he named it Santa Cruz, claiming it for Spain. Then, sailing further north, he encountered endless islands and christened them Las Islas Virgenes—The Virgin Islands.
In 1571, English explorer and navigator, Sir Francis Drake, sailed through the passageway that now separates the British and American Virgin Islands. (A popular spot to visit on St. Thomas is Drakes Seat. Overlooking beautiful Magens Bay, infamous Drake would conceal his fleet of ships while watching the activities of the Spanish Armanda.)
During the 1600s-1700s, European power both claimed and settled the Caribbean islands. By 1671, Denmark established their first settlement in St. Thomas. By the early 1700s the Danes expanded to St. John. They purchased control of St. Croix from France, uniting the three Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas was declared a free port in the 1800s and became a major trading emporium. The islands prospered with sugar plantations.
In 1848, Denmark abolished slavery on the islands.
United States purchased the islands for $25 million in 1917. US citizenship was not granted until 1927.
The Virgin Islanders come from all over the world. They mainly fall into four categories: African descendants, French (immigrants from French islands), Puerto Ricans and continental US transplants. There are also many “down islanders” from the southern Caribbean islands and a large number of East Indians.
Ferries and daytrips
Ferries can provide easy connections from St. Thomas, St. John or to Water Island (500 acres in size), the newest of the Virgins. It is unspoiled and can only be accessed by ferry boats. Remember to carry a valid US passport if you visit the British Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas is 32–square miles and is home to Charlotte Amalie, the capital city of the USVI. If you’re looking for a cosmopolitan island with outstanding duty-free shopping, and a variety of restaurants and cafes, then you will love St. Thomas.
Don’t miss beautiful Magens Bay, distinguished as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Discover historic landmarks and monuments around the island.
See the view from the top on the St. Thomas Sky ride in Paradise Point. The tramway gondola climbs 700 feet, straight up, enabling a bird’s eye view of white sand beaches, vivid turquoise seas and towering green hillsides.
Or, go down under. The Atlantis Submarine Expedition takes you on a journey 80–feet below the ocean surface. View vibrant coral reefs and exotic sea life in an air-conditioned environment.
Check out dozens of sailing vessels as they visit the port of St. Thomas. Several cruise ships dock in St. Thomas during the week, giving you an opportunity to see some of the largest, most beautiful ships in the world.
Golfers will love Mahogany Run Golf Course, which has the distinction of being one of the most beautiful 18 holes in the Caribbean.
Fishermen will be in paradise. At least 24 sportfishing world records have been set in the Virgin Islands. Join a fishing charter and try your luck at blue marlin, sailfish, kingfish, wahoo, grouper and more.
Although the island is tiny in size, it is the natural choice if you love the outdoors. Over two–thirds of the island is a US national park (9,500 acres!).
Campers will choose a campsite at either Cinnamon Bay or Maho Bay, with the ocean’s edge close by.
Love to hike? Take the Reef Bay Hike with a National Park Service guide. It includes a stop at the island’s only petroglyphs and a 20-minute ride along St. John’s southern coast. (Archeological works show evidence that Indians from South America lived on St. John as early as 710 B.C.)
Water snorkel? Trunk Bay has a fascinating 225-yard self-guided snorkeling trail marked by underwater signs. It’s like an underwater museum! Trunk Bay is distinguished as being one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world.
St. Croix is 84–square miles and the largest of the three islands. If you’re interested in cultural heritage this is the spot for you. Don’t miss the old-world charm of Christiansted and Frederiksted. Danish architecture, unspoiled beach and remnants of sugar mills are just part of appreciating St. Croix’s beauty and heritage.
Buck Island – The only US underwater monument is a spectacular coral reef and snorkeling trail.
Cane Bay Beach – Experience world-class diving with depths up to 1,000 feet.
Salt River – Where Columbus first landed in 1493.
Fort Frederick–Located in Frederiksted, this was the site of the Declaration of Emancipation to the slaves on July 3, 1848.
Fort Christianvaern – A restored fort in Christiansted. Built by the Danes in 1774 to protect the harbor, it is now run by the National Park Service. The controversial dungeons make it a must-see.
Driving: If you’re going to rent a car be prepared to drive on the left side. Roads can be curvy and steep. You may encounter cows, goats and even islanders in the middle of a windy back road.
Weddings: No waiting period is required, once on the island. However, advance preparation is necessary. The Territorial Court/Wedding Department must inspect your application to be married on the island at least eight days prior to arrival. A non-refundable fee for filing the marriage license is $50. Additional fees include $50 for the marriage license and $200 for ceremonies performed by a judge of the Superior Court.
Cruising: Cruise passengers are required to have a US Passport when traveling by ship to the US Virgin Islands. Verify documentation requirements before purchasing cruise travel.
America’s Caribbean is waiting… from sea to shining sea. For more information visit www.usvitourism.vi.
Linda McClain, CTA, is owner of Capital Region based Linda McClain Travel Services “From The Islands To The Highlands, No Dream Is Too Far From Here!” For more information call 372.7657 or visit www.lindamcclaintravel.net.