US Virgin Islands
A Destination Guide for Your Caribbean Vacation
The US Virgin Islands, made up of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, is a boater and diver’s paradise of many islands, beautiful beaches, and plenty of dive spots to explore. We were looking for a remote region to charter a private catamaran with crew to spend a week of bonding and adventure with our kids, and settled on the USVI as the perfect destination. Private yachts, sail boats, and catamarans are available throughout the US Virgin Islands and Diego Travel works with the best yacht broker for our clients’ needs.
Perfect For: Families | Destination Weddings | Honeymoon | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families | Scuba Divers | Snorkelers | Scuba Divers
Getting to US Virgin Islands
Getting to USVI is perhaps one of its biggest draws, since there are so many direct flights into St. Thomas (STT) from major cities like Chicago, Dulles, Newark and Miami. From St. Thomas, it’s an easy boat ride to St. John, and a full day boat ride to St. Croix, so most people visiting St. Croix will take the direct flight from Miami. US Virgin Islands is extremely close to British Virgin Islands. Before Covid, visitors could visit the islands interchangeably pretty easily, but now the restrictions make it more difficult. For ease of flights, it’s sometimes better to fly into STT and take a boat over to British Virgin Islands, even though you will need to stop by boat to clear customs. When you utilize Diego Travel’s trip planning service, we handle all of the logistics of travel to the US Virgin Island and British Virgin Islands so you don’t have to worry about any of it.
YACHT AND CATAMARAN CHARTERS
The Caribbean just might be the Yacht Charter Capital of the World, and you will find many luxury boats, yachts and catamarans in the region. The problem is, where can you find one of these that fit your budget? I’ll let you in on a secret. The yacht charter with crew experience is more affordable than you think, especially when traveling with a group of family or friends. I have worked with one of the boating industry’s top yacht brokers for over a decade, and she has 30+ years in the industry. Together, at no additional cost to the client, we are able to pair Diego Travel clients to the best boat and crew at your budget. When I reached out to her for our personal vacation, we were considering two boats in our price range, and she told me one crew would be better than the other with our young kids. She was right! And whether you’re looking for a charter in Greece, Italy, or the Caribbean, she knows the boats and crew and directs me to the right choice once we have a discussion about you and what your needs are.
The US Virgin Islands are so popular for yacht charters because there are so many islands and protected bays for mooring at night, with not much distance or rough seas in between destinations. You can go for a full week or two without touching land, just exploring different waters, with each beach and bay being extremely unique. We spent our seven nights in Monde Bay, Little Lameshur Bay, Long Bay, Francis Bay, Caneel Bay, and finally Brewers Bay. The cool thing about our captain, who had 10 years experience, was that he knew to get us one bay ahead of the rest, so at each stop, due to our timing, we had each bay essentially to ourselves.
While we opted for a catamaran charter with crew, there are also bareboat catamaran and sailboat charters available (meaning less cost without crew). If you are the do-it-yourself type and want to man your own boat, you have this option available in the USVI. For those that want to learn how to sail, the USVI also affords a variety of options to get ASA certified during on your crewed charter. Keep in mind that boat charters are regularly 7 nights.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are the number 1 attraction of the US Virgin Islands, with so many reef dives, wreck dives, drift dives, and rocky islets that are home to a myriad of fish and sea life. Our 11-year-old daughter tried scuba diving for the first time, and on her second attempt stayed underwater for 25 minutes.
The USVI is full of national wildlife reserves like Buck Island and the Virgin Islands National Park & Coral Reef National Monument. Because of the amount of protection surrounding the islands, the water is full of sea life, making the perfect paradise for both scuba divers and snorkelers.
It’s worthwhile to mention the amount of sea life we saw off our boat. From constant fish, sting rays and octopus, our favorite was swimming with the sea turtles, where there is a bay with hundreds of them. My 4- and 6-year-olds swam on their own as we patiently followed a little sea turtle as he would slowly surface for a breath every few minutes, where we’d get an up close look and then watch him plunge back to the sand. The fine of touching any turtle starts at $5,000, so this ensures these beautiful creatures can remain unharmed and explore freely in their natural habitat for years to come.
Watersports and Day charters
For those who prefer to be landbased instead of chartering a yacht or catamaran, the US Virgin Islands offers plenty of oportunities to experience the natural beauty of these islands.
There are a wide range of activities available directly from the beach like taking sailing classes on a small sail boat or a Hobie cat. The USVI is a great introduction to sailing for kids if they are interested in learning to sail. There are also many otions to go kayaking or stand up paddleboarding or even learning to windsurf or kiteboard
Fishing charters offer an unique oportunity to fish the Puerto Rico Trench where you can find some of the best offshore fishing in the Caribbean, located only six miles from shore.
Many operators offer snorkeling tours, day sailing catamaran trips and sunset sailing experiences. Private day charters are also available aboard both sail boats and powerboats.
Charlotte Amalie is the main cruise ship port where the large cruise ships arrive and depart. In St. Thomas, you don’t pay sales tax, so it’s the perfect place to buy a luxury watch or jewelry. Charlotte Amalie is full of your more touristy shops that cater to the cruise ships, while St. John has some more boutique shopping with local shops that sell everything from board shorts and rash guards for men to swim suits and cover ups for women. In the USVI, you won’t wear or need much more than that, as even in the winter time, the evenings rarely get cold enough to require a sweater.
On our week-long charter, we only stopped twice for shopping and to walk around, and my favorite spot was Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay in St. John. This small shopping center has a few bars and restaurants, but my favorite shop was Lulee, which carries all my favorite brands and where I bought a replacement pair of my favorite Agolde denim cut-offs.
While we truthfully did not explore the USVI by land that much, we had been in the past when visiting by cruise ship and were told of the many rum distilleries on both St. Thomas and St. John. And just as any good Caribbean island should offer, a good bar and opportunity to taste a dozen rums abounds in the US Virgin Islands.
One of country music’s most famous singers, Kenny Chesney, has a home on Cinnamon Bay in the USVI and often sings about island life and its plentiful drinks. Two of our favorite spots are the Windmill Bar on St. John, perched on a hilltop in an old sugar mill with live music and stunning views, and for a more refined wine tasting experience, try Kati Ligo in St. John, a cozy wine bar.
Where to Stay in the USVI
The Ritz Carlton St. Thomas
The Ritz Carlton St. Thomas is perfect for families, multi-generational families (we saw a ton of large family groups during Christmas week), and even great for couples during non-holiday travel times. The hotel is located on a small bay with a somewhat short beach and two pools. One pool was originally redesigned to be adult-only, but the sales director told me that families weren’t having it and that they eventually gave in and have kids welcome at both pools. Having said that, families with young and noisy kids tend to gravitate to the pool located next to the winding water slide, a new addition from the renovation. Right next to the water slide pool is a fantastic kids club, where both indoor and outdoor activities are completely complimentary for ages 5-12. Cabanas incur an extra cost and are located around both pools.
Aside from the pools and beach, you also have tennis courts and a huge brand new gym with state of the art equipment. You have an amazing spa, and fun boutique, and four restaurants. To really add to the experience, I highly recommend a private beach dinner, where they’ll set your table up under a romantic sea grape tree that sits on the beach. It is the perfect spot to celebrate an anniversary or have a proposal.
Let’s talk about Club level at this Ritz Carlton hotel. If you’re a Marriott or Ritz Carlton loyalist, I am sure you are aware of club level by now. The club level rooms give access to a special club lounge for its guests. In my opinion, at some properties, this added benefit is well worth it and at other properties, it’s not worth the price difference. At Ritz Carlton St. Thomas, the Club level is definitely worth it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served buffet style with a wine and coffee bar, all complimentary to Club level guests. They also have their own outdoor terrace space, so it’s almost like having access to your own exclusive restaurant that is completely free.
The cost of meals at a resort like this can really add up, so we saw plenty of families eating all their meals in the Club lounge. Finally, Diego Travel is a preferred partner to Marriott STARS program, which includes all Ritz Carltons, so even if you’re Bonvoy Ambassador Elite, you will still get additional perks when booking your Marriott stays with Diego Travel. The only time these perks don’t apply is when you’re booking your stay using points.
Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following STARS Amenities:
- Welcome Amenity
- Complimentary Breakfast for 2 at Bleuwater Restaurant
- $100 Hotel Credit
- Complimentary Wi-FI
- Priority Upgrade if Available
- Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
- VIP Status with In-Person Warm Welcome
- Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service
Diego Travel Recommends Ritz Carlton St. Thomas For: Families | Destination Weddings | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families | Corporate Groups | Incentive Groups
Where To Eat in US Virgin Islands?
Two US Virgin Islands favorites:
Lime Out – A floating taco bar based in Coral Bay, St. John.
Pizza Pi – A small boat with a pizza oven offering delivery by dinghy based in Christmas Cove, Little St. James. They make gluten-free pizza too! Started by a couple who left their corporate world behind and covered a boat into a large pizza oven/delivery restaurant. Talk about chasing your dreams!
Our favorite day and dinner experience:
Lovango Cay – A beach and pool club with limited daily memberships starting at $100 per person, private cabana rentals, and waterfront dining based off Lovango Cay.
Our other favorite food experiences:
Dave and Jerry’s – Fine dining in St. John that offers excellent steaks and a ton of food. We outdid ourselves!
Prime – Fine dining in St. Thomas, would recommend for a final evening on the dock if you’re chartering a yacht or catamaran.
ZoZos – Waterfront dining in Caneel Bay, St. John and also a happy hour option with live music and a cute gift shop.
Skinny Legs – This is a very local hang in St. John serving up burgers and drinks. The name says it all for appropriate dress attire.
A Few of My Favorite Things
Beaches and Bays
The community of US Virgin Islands is a huge boating community who love the water and the easy way of life. Though after witnessing how hard our crew worked aboard the boat throughout our week stay, I realized that they work hard and likely play harder. The people are very friendly, easy-going, and work hard to provide excellent service when you charter a yacht or catamaran. They come from all over the world to work on boats in the Caribbean, and most of them are well-traveled and well-educated, spending part of the year working very hard and able to take time off in their off season to travel to other places. I learned a lot from our crew, a couple who has been married 5 years and in the yachting industry for 10, and hope to someday charter with them again.
If you’re interested in a chartering a yacht or catamaran in the US Virgin Islands, or book the Ritz Carlton St. Thomas, I would be happy to provide you my guidance and match you with the perfect boat + crew or hotel accommodation. You can email me here to inquire.