Where is the best (most desirable) area on the island to stay?
>>This depends on what you want to do. Most of the hotels/resorts
lie between Charlotte Amalie (south central STT) or Red Hook area (east
STT). Charlotte has most of the shopping and downtown historic sites,
Red Hook is much smaller, but has more nightlife, is more laid back and
is closer to the ferry to St. John (STJ). STJ is killer and has the best
beaches in the USVI, and a really cool outdoor shopping plaza called Mongoose
Junction, so i think you will want to spend some time on STJ. i'll cover
a few options for staying on STJ also, you should consider it instead
What offers the most bang for the buck? Do you know any insider stuff
on best hotels, condos or houses to rent in desirable locations?
>>i'll break this down to a few hotels i can recommend, as for villas/condos,
there are way too many to choose from, if you find any online you'd like
me to help evaluate for you, just forward them to me and i'll tell you
about the neighborhood, etc.
On St. Thomas:
Pop. around 50,000. best beach=Magen's Bay on the northside, it's a
taxi ride from anywhere on the island. tons of shopping in STT, and lots
of cruise ship tourists running around downtown everyday.
Castle- upside:This place is smack
in the middle of Charlotte, walk to shops and restaurants, and features
an amazing view of downtown and the cruise ship harbor. nice pool, big
patio dining area w/piano bar, good food, reasonable $$. It's recently
been totally rennovated and i haven't seen inside any of the rooms in
several years. Used to be pretty cheap (>$100/rm.) but i think it's
gotten a little pricier. downside: you have to taxi to the beach.$$$
Frenchman's Reef - upside:
"The Reef" dominates the penninsula just east of Charlotte,
and is definitley upscale, 4star. It offers killer views of downtown and
the cruise ships' pass close enough to hit 'em with a frisbee. Amazing
pool with waterfalls, ocean views, healthclub, outdoor hottubs built into
a cliff, watersports, diving, 4 or 5 restaurants, tennis courts, beach
front villas at MorningStar Beach (part of the complex), etc. After hurricane
Marilyn, they pumped $54M into rennovating the Reef and it shows. One
of the top 3-4 hotels on STT. downside: probably
pretty pricey, but a lot of the upscale places are offering deals since
9/11. the water at the beach can be a little rough and it drops off quickly,
but the everything else kicks ass.$$$$
Beachclub - upside: i used
to live a block away from this place and used their pool/beach all the
time. this is more of a villa/timeshare kind of set up, also recently
rennovated. Beach side pool, restaurant and bar, tennis, watersports,
nicely landscaped. food here is nothing special, but the location is key,
b/t Charlotte and Red Hook, this place is safe, quiet and clean, lots
of iguanas running around. not to be confused with Bluebeards Castle,
which is downtown Charlotte, the castle is an ok place but not as nice
or low key as Blackbeards. downside: like i said,
sort of a timeshare thing, i don't know the details on how to get in.
beach is a 7 out of 10, and believe me there are some "10" beaches
to be had in the VI. $$$
Harbor - upside: quiet,
feels out of the way but is really close to Red Hook and what it has to
offer. SH is a favorite of the locals, many live here year round. It has
the usual, bar/restaurant, the cafe food is good, water and beach are
an "8.5", but just a slightly on the pebblish side in some spots.
good snorkelling. Really a relaxing place. downside:
can't really think of one, this place is pretty nice. $$$
also see on STT: Bolongo
Bay$$$, The Elysian$$$$, Ritz Carleton$$$$$,
St. John- ok, here's the skinny. St.Thomas
is to Little Rock what St. John is to Eureka Springs. STJ=5,000 pop. 80%of
the island is unihnabited nat'l park, this island kicks ass, it has the
best beaches, really laid back little downtown area (Cruz Bay), really
good restaurants, did i mention great beaches? all of them 9's or 10's.
STJ is popular with the younger crowd and honeymooners.
St. John - upside: this
place is badass in every way, it's in Cruz Bay, close to food, nightlife.
downside: you pay for the goods, i'm sure. $$$$
Concordia Studios: upside:
this villas are run by the U.S. Park Service and are not flashy but quite
nice, some come with little private pools etc., a good place if you want
to get away from everything and probably quite affordable downside:
these villas are on the far side of St. John, really not close to anything,
especially shopping. a car or jeep is mandatory, and you might not want
to drive in the Vi, roads are very narrow and you drive on the left (but
lots of tourists DO rent vehicles, it's not uncommon, and STJ has far
less traffic than STT.) $$$
Bay Eco-tents - upside:
the whole Maho Bay complex is eco in design, recycling bins are abundant,
all buildings and cabins are constructed from recycled or eco-friendly
materials, and the focus is definitely "green". The beach and
water here are incredible, you will not find a cleaner beach on this planet,
with snorkel gear, sunfish sailboats and kayaks for rent. Eco-tents usually
feature a double bed w/misquito net and a couch, basic furniture, utensils
and cookware, Igloo-type cooler, wash basins, and a couple of lawn chairs
on a small deck. A small store in the campground sells all the basics
and some luxuries too, and there is also a restaurant on site that is
good and affordable, breakfast is especially good. Eco-tents are around
$75/night, cheaper if you can swing a "locals" discount, more
expensive during season. Book in advance, this place is often full. What's
the absolute best spot? Ask for A-12 or close to it. downside:
it's way out there in terms of STJ, zero nightlife, and a helluva cab
ride late night from the bars. If you or your significant other are "high
maintenance" look elsewhere. $$
What are the fun / good restaurants?
In Charlotte, the "Frenchtown" area offers the best restaurants.
try Craig n' Sallys($$$), or Alexanders($$$).....
Hotel 1829 ($$$$) near Blackbeards is pretty famous.
The Old Stone Farmhouse ($$$$) near Magens Bay is good but pricey,
but has GREAT atmosphere, it is literally one of the oldest buildings
on STT. In Red Hook, you MUST stop for lunch at the Grateful
Deli ($) in Red Hook plaza, another favorite with the locals,
it's owned by a very good friend of mine from Fayetteville, Dan Sheffey
(Dan is my age, has long hair, owns a sweet Harley and looks like a Hells'
Angel, but he is about the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet). Their
sandwiches are awesome and all named after Grateful Dead songs! they also
have all kinds of pastries and desserts made fresh daily. Ask for Dan
and tell him you're from the 'ville and i sent you, seriously, he will
treat you right....oh yeah, and buy one of his tshirts or frisbees, i
designed them. Also in Red Hook is Duffy's
Love Shack, probably the most famous bar on STT, they have
a wide variety of foofoo drinks, fun atmosphere, really hot waitresses:),
and it really gets hoppin after 10pm.
STJ: Most restaurants are in Cruz
Bay. Cafe Roma ($$/locals favorite) has really
good, affordable italian and pizzas, but it's very small, go early. Paradiso
($$$) in Mongoose Junction has a nice patio and good atmosphere and carib/mediterranian
food along with fresh seafood. Morgan's Mango ($$$)
has good seafood, it's close to Paradiso. Woody's
($) has great appitizers and is THE happy hour spot in Cruz Bay. Just
up the street from Woody's are a couple of good places, but i can't remember
the names right now. Skinny Legs ($) in Coral
Bay is notorious, if not for the food for the bizarre crowd that hangs
Best excursions? Sailing? Fishing? Snorkeling etc?
You definitely have to take a full day trip on a powerboat thru the islands.
You can easily hop on a group tour, or rent your own 25-30ft powerboat
w/a captain for about $300/day. (add a $100 for the captain, and $100
for fuel and food to take along.) This may sound like a lot, but most
of the group tours are $80-$120/person for a full day and you are herded
along with everyone else, and they might not go where you want or stay
there as long as you want. I recommend hiring your own powerboat for a
day (this was my absolute favorite thing to do when i lived there), then
later getting on a half day or sunset sail with a group charter, the latter
are easy to line up from any hotel, you'll have your choice. I know a
great barebaot captain/good friend i can personally rec. His name is Steve
Thornton, he's American but a native V.islander, about 30yrs old,
very personable and responsible, he's a certified USCG captain (sailing
and motor) and he knows the islands like the back of his hand. As a bonus,
he's a helluva photographer so he can shoot pics of you all day long.
His website is http://www.thorntonphotography.com.
If you want to use him, email me and i'll help set it up. He can take
care of getting the boat, etc, and pick you up where ever you are staying.
SEES IN THE VI:
The Baths on Virgin Gorda, BVI- an amazing collection
of huge, naturally formed granite boulders that create a cave-like walkthrough
on the beach in VG, but with lots of opportunities to splash around in
tidal pools and sun atop the boulders. really, really cool. The
Indians, BVI - some of the best snorkelling you'll ever do. Big coral
heads w/swim thrus, millions of fish. The Caves on
Norman Island, BVI - right next to the Indians, sea caves you swim
into with no threat of getting lost, also tons of fish. Supposedly a bunch
of pirate treasure was found in one of these caves by a local frenchie
family about a hundred years ago. The William Thornton,
Norman Island, BVI - this is a floating bar that gets pretty wild at times,
as in naked wild. Body shots on the bar are an everyday/hour occurance,
and the party starts early and goes late. You can pull your boat right
up alongside, tie it off, and dive off the roof to swim with the barracudas.
Not known for it's decorum, the Willy T, as it's known to locals, can
be a pretty fun place. Their tshirts are cool, even though i didn't design
them. Ivan's Stress Free Bar on Jost Van Dyke,
BVI - If you are a musician and are looking for a laid back jam session
or just a cool place to hang out, go to Ivan's. His place sits on a beautiful
stretch of beach in White Bay, and inside you find a variety of instruments
hanging around to strum or thump. If you ask nicely, Ivan may even let
you play his ivory Strat. Most times you can pour your own drinks and
there is a kitchen and fridge to use at will. About a dozen beach front
campsites are available at about $15/night, cheaper if you stay longer
and/or Ivan likes you. I've seen some good times here, and judging from
the pictures on the wall, so has Keith Richards. Yes, that Keith Richards.
Go there. Ideally, you want to do all of the above in one day, hence the
powerboat rental, most group tours don't make all of these stops....Sunset
from Paradise Point in STT - take the tram or
drive up to this bar/restaurant overlooking Charlotte and the cruise ship
harbor. Live music most nights. take a camera. Magen's
Bay on STT - If you stay on STT, make sure you spend some time at
this beach, it's huge, it's beautiful, watersports, food, beverages, etc,
all available right at the beach. snorkelling here is the only thing not
exceptional. Also...lots of cool historical stuff on both islands, the
oldest church in the western hemisphere on STT, sugar mill ruins at Cinnamon
Bay on STJ, the old fort in downtown Charlotte, etc, pick up one of
the free guide books at the airport and see what interests you.
Any do's and don'ts regarding travel, car rental, areas to avoid, tourist
The Island Way is to start every conversation
with any islander with the greeting Good Morning,
Good Day, or Good Evening. Seriously, do this,
it shows politeness and coupled with a little small talk it will get you
farther than money or attitude in many places. People are on "island
time" in the VI, so relax and be patient with them in restaurants,
shops, etc. nobody is in a hurry in the VI except taxi drivers and people
who don't know better.
Tourist traps? Mountaintop
(viewpoint on STT) is overrated in my opinion. You get a better view from
Paradise Point and you can't see the sunset from Mountaintop. Island
sightseeing tours on those big safari buses usually suck, don't waste
your time. Trunk Bay on STJ has gotten a little
touristy and overrun, they charge a $5/person fee to use that beach now,
but if you want showers, bathrooms, concessions, etc, it might be worth
it. I prefer Hawksnest, Cinnamon, or Maho,
the last two also have bathrooms, food, etc., Hawksnest has only pit toilets
that are iffy, but all of these 3 beaches are free. If you are into gardening,
you might enjoy the GreatHouse Botanical Gardens
on STT, but drop the kids at the beach first .Ferries
between STT/Red Hook and STJ run both directions at the top of every hour
from 7am to 11pm, $3 each way. There is a ferry to/from STJ from Charlotte
Amalie for $7, check for a schedule. If you are American, you DON'T
NEED a passport to go to the USVI or BVI if you have a drivers license
and photocopy of your birth certificate with a raised seal or voters reg.
card, but honestly a passport is easier to deal with. Taxi's
are mostly these huge customized vans, and can cost $5-10/person to go
anywhere, so it's pretty economical to rent a car if you are ok with driving.
Parking downtown in Charlotte is a bitch tho, dont' even bother, take
a taxi. STJ is easier, but watch for one way streets in both towns. Stay
on the beaten path after dark in Charlotte, do not venture into the
outer 'hoods. Muggings of tourists are rare and
usually only happen to people who go where they have no business being.
Most of the restaurants/bars in Charlotte ARE on the beaten path, ditto
STJ, so it's not really a big deal. If you are unsure, hop in a taxi.
Flying into STT is the only way to
get to the VI. I rec' taking Delta thru Atlanta,
they fly big jets straight to STT. AA usually flies you thru dallas or
miami, often with a stop in San Juan PR, where you take a puddle jumper
prop to STT. Fly Delta if you can. Ask if your hotel provides an airport
shuttle. As for $$, there are ATM's everywhere
so you don't really need trav checks unless you just want to take them.
I've seen some good deals to the VI lately on travelzoo.com, it may be
worth a look if you're bargain hunting.
about it, reading back over this it sounds like i belong on the Travel
Channel. but this is all the real deal and should save you some needless
headaches and stumbling around (like a tourist). I hope you have a great