We’ve just finished a great week in the US Virgin Islands where we stayed at Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove resort – a full trip report will follow soon!
This was our first trip to St Thomas so, although we’d done some research on the Web, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Having now spent a week there, I thought a brief list of tips may help anyone thinking of visiting this beautiful part of the world:
- Rent a car at the airport: St Thomas taxis charge per person and will charge extra for baggage so, although car rental isn’t cheap, it’s still the most economical way to see the island hassle-free.
- When selecting your rental company be sure to pick one that allows you to take the car on the ferry (point 13 will tell you why this is important). We went with Budget (purely out of convenience) and had no issues, but we were told that not all rental companies have the same rules and some don’t allow you to board the ferry in your car.
- Not satisfied with charging some pretty outrageous prices for some fairly beaten up cars, rental companies/the local authorities have discovered another way of squeezing cash out of visitors without US driving licenses – they charge a $25 “US license fee”, so be sure to budget that in if you’re visiting from outside of the USA.
- Outside of the towns there are few roads with sidewalks, so don’t expect to get away with walking to the grocery store. A vehicle is a must on St Thomas if you’re planning on self-catering.
- Sticking with the vehicle/driving theme: Be prepared to drive on the left! All the cars are set up with the steering wheel where you’d expect it to be (on the left) but you actually drive on what would seem to be the wrong side of the road! Watch out when you’re negotiating the winding roads in the hills, as it is tricky to see round the corners with the driver on the wrong side!
- We’ll tell you now, so that you don’t get a shock when it comes to filling up the rental car – gas is nearly $5/gallon on St Thomas and it’s the same story on St John. Luckily the islands aren’t too big, so you won’t use too much gas if you’re only staying for a week.
- Bring cash! While credit cards are accepted in many places they’re certainly not welcome everywhere. Taxis, smaller retailers, the port authorities and even the gas station we used on the way to the airport all insisted on cash.
- Signposts appear to be a rarity on St Thomas so don’t leave the resort without consulting Google Maps: While Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove was easy enough to find (it’s just off a main road), places like the Ritz-Carlton (which you’d expect to be well signed) aren’t marked at all. Add to that the fact that the locals’ road knowledge is shaky, so asking a passer-by isn’t a very reliable way of finding your route, and you can see why doing your research before setting off becomes a necessity.
- Don’t rely on your cell service to provide you with navigation when you venture around the island. We had T-Mobile phones and, while they were fine at the resort and in the towns, when we ventured further afield we saw a lot of “Searching…” and “No service” messages.
- Don’t bother with the cable car to the top of the hill in Charlotte Amalie (the one opposite the Havensight Mall). It costs a staggering $21 per person and the views are nothing to write home about, especially if you have three cruise ship in harbor blocking your line of sight.
- Be prepared to pay to get on to some of the more popular beaches. Both Lindquist beach and Magen’s Bay beach charged $4/person plus $2 for the car, but both are well worth the few bucks.
- The beaches are beautiful, without doubt, but the sand flies can be annoying, so bring lots of insect repellent and you’ll have a much more comfortable day.
- Take the ferry to St John. Many places we’ve visited have claimed “The world’s most beautiful beaches” and some disappoint after raising expectations so high, but St John may have a rightful claim to that title. The beaches are nothing short of spectacular.
- Leave plenty of time for lines at the airport when departing – not even priority access will save you from some long lines during peak times. To their credit, the airport authorities seem to process people as quickly as they can and the building is well air-conditioned, but there’s no getting past the fact that you have to clear US customs, US immigration and then TSA before you get to your gate.
- Don’t just stay in the resort: Get out and see the islands! There is some truly beautiful scenery to see and you’ll really miss out if you stick to drinking Margaritas by the pool.