US Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands comprises 68 islands, although only three are inhabited: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.They offer the best of both worlds.

Charlotte Amalie

St Thomas

St Thomas is a shopping mecca with the cheapest and best duty-free goods in the region and St. John, just a short boat ride away, is mostly one large national park. Some ships call at St. John instead of St. Thomas, but experienced cruise visitors to the latter know that they should do their shopping in the morning in Charlotte Amalie, the capital, and then take a short ferry ride to St. John for an afternoon on one of its glorious beaches. However once your shopping is done, you will have plenty of time left to  explore the rest of the island, ringed by one beach resort after another, and the National Park on St. John. The Capital Charlotte Amelie has one of the most attractive harbors in the region, especially when the sun sets behind the sails of the yachts filling the bay. Behind the wharf, where ferries depart for St. John, stands Fort Christian and the Virgin Islands Museum. And behind that, Emancipation Gardens marks the start of shop-filled Dronningens Gade (Main Street), which has endless alleyways running down to the waterfront, each with a mini-shopping mall. At No. 14 stands the house where Impressionist artist Camille Pissaro was born in 1830, which is now a small art gallery.

Castle on the Hill  – Although richer in shops than historical sights, Charlotte Amalie does have a legacy of piracy, and what is left of Blackbeard’s Castle is at the top of several long flights of steps cut into the hillside. Built by the Danes in 1679, it was supposed to have been used by the notorious English pirate, Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard.

Close by, off Kongens Gade (Government Hill), is  the Seven Arches Museum, a 19th century Danish artisan’s house portraying Denmarks colonization of the islands, with authentic furnishings and interior. The Danes were the first Europeans to settle in St. Thomas and St. john in the 17th century and eventually sold the islands to the US in 1917 for US $25 million. However, they hung on to the cruise ship dock and built Havensight Mall, selling it all for US $54 million in 1993.

St John

Across the Island – The majority of excursions are on the water, involving sailing or kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving in beautifully clear waters awash with colorful marine life. It’s cheaper to hire a taxi independently rather than through the ship, or hire a car if you want to go further afield. The rates are fixed so you don’t need to haggle. To the north of the capital is the east Estate St Peter Greathouse and Botanical Gardens where you can walk through the 4 hectares of landscaped gardens. At about 305 meters above sea level, you can see up to 24 islands. At Coral World Marine, 15 minutes from Havensight at the northeast coast, a three level underground observatory gives a fish’s eye view of an enormous range of marine life, and it’s fun to watch the divers at feeding time.

St John

A visit to the neighboring island of St John is one of the most popular excursions, either as part of a tour or on your own. Two-thirds of St John is an unspoilt natural park (gifted to the US by the Rockfellers) with 110 different types of tree and many species of birds and butterflies. It also has more than 40 beaches and coves with an eco-resort at Caneel Bay. THe best though, is Trunk Bay, which has an underwater snorkeling trail. Regular ferries cross from Charlotte Amalie in 45 minutes, but from Red Hook (about 25 minutes from Havensight)on the east coast, they are cheaper, more frequent and take only 20 minutes.

Fort Christiansted

Fort Christiansted

St Croix

St Croix, out on a limb to the south is a complete contrast to St. Thomas, quieter and less developed with a marine national park and a varied landscape, from grassy hills to lush rain forest. The capital, Christiansted, a shuttle bus ride away, on the north coast has more shops, bars and restaurants in King’s Alley Walk, but only the smaller ships can dock here. At 212 sq km, St Croix is larger than St Thomas, but it is less developed, and far less crowded. It is well known for its magnificent beaches – Sandy Point, cane Bay and Davis Bay – a short coach or taxi ride from Frederiksted. Some of the best places to visit are also near by and include the Cruzan Rum destillery, the St George Village, Botanical Garden, set among the ruins of a plantation village, and the restored Whim Great House which portrays plantation life during Danish rule.

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