This is a sea-lover's holiday that promises the Rolls-Royce of beaches. While adults love the intoxicating, pristine seaside scenery, kids love the space. Here in the Virgin Islands (VI), even a crowded beach isn't crowded. Kids can romp, there's seldom an issue of tides, and the promise of powdery sand makes castle building sensational. Water sports abound, from snorkeling to kayaking through mangroves, to strolling the ocean bottom. Extraordinary deals on jewelry are the exclamation point of a downtown St. Thomas shopping excursion through the centuries-old buildings from Danish colonial days.
November to April is known as the high season both of its fluctuated prices and near-perfect weather: warm days that, even when they get heated, bring cooling breezes. You can find some better-priced flights and resort bargains in late spring through early fall, when it can be pretty sticky, (especially in mid-summer), but there's no letup in fun options for the family. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to December 1, and is at its peak in September and October.
The temperature is frequently in the 90s and the humidity can make it feel much warmer. Seldom a day goes by that a Virgin Islands' weather forecast doesn't begin with "A chance of showers." It rains almost every day in the VI, but it's usually over in minutes, sometimes in seconds. (It's one of those places where you can actually watch it rain across the street, but not on you.) You seldom see umbrellas here, unless used for sun, and it's too hot to wear that poncho you bought. Pack a sweatshirt or a light windbreaker for boat rides or an evening excursion into the North Side, where temperatures drop and some homes are known to have fireplaces. Above all, pack sunscreen -- it is an absolute necessity every day, all day. Get more weather info.
Cyril E. King Airport (STT) is the only airport on St. Thomas, and it is serviced by several major carriers -- most of which offer direct flights from large East Coast cities. For those staying on St. John, you must fly into St. Thomas and take a ferry. Ferries leave from two sites -- downtown Charlotte Amalie, (which is just minutes away from the airport and is a 45-minute trip), and Red Hook, (a 20-minute drive from the airport and a 15-minute trip). Ferry times, prices, and departure locations are listed in the publication "This Week," available for free at airport newsstands, and on VInow.com.
Your resort may offer van service from the airport. If not, you'll want to hop a taxi van, which carries eight to 12 passengers. Make sure the vehicle has the letters "TP" on the license plate to ensure it's licensed. You'll be charged per person and per bag. Depending on where you're going, the rates range from $5 to $15. Lower rates apply for large groups going to the same destination.
For daily touring, taxi vans or safari buses are a constant presence at resorts. You can find one that will take you on a tour or that will drop you off at places of interest. Make arrangements for pickup, or get assurances that other taxis will be circling through looking for passengers. What's a safari bus? It's a truck chassis with open-air, canopied seating for breezy sightseeing.
If you rent a car, (and that's not a bad idea), you must first have a good sense of humor and then abandon all ties to logic. There are hardly any street signs in St. Thomas or St. John. While maps will reference route numbers, and signs with route numbers are posted on some roads, no one will have a clue if you ask for directions to route such-and-such. Roads do have names, but they are learned over time. Most important, locals drive on the left here.
Carnival, a huge annual St. Thomas celebration the last week in April, combining European and African traditions and featuring Calypso music, steel pan, food festivals, and parades. However, it can be crowded and overwhelming to outsiders. A smaller version takes place on St. John the last week of June, culminating on the Fourth of July.
The VI is a study in contrasts, with supremely beautiful beaches mixing with rural villages.
As hot as it is in the Virgin Islands, and as tempted as you may be to wear bathing suit attire in public, the local culture is a conservative one, including attire. Most locals open conversations with good morning, afternoon, or night (yes, "night" instead of "evening"). Custom dictates that you greet someone politely before beginning an inquiry or conversation. ("Excuse me" isn't enough.)
Lizards, including iguanas, are everywhere in the VI, and resorts often hold daily iguana feedings for the kids.
There is no sales tax in the Virgin Islands, and the duty-free allowance from the VI is double that of any other Caribbean location: $1,600 per person. Original paintings,unset precious gems, and anything made in the Virgin Islands are exempt from duty if their value exceeds $25.